“At the risk of sounding cliché,” said Joshua Hughes, “the arts saved my life.”
The Philadelphia native and now Lewiston resident told the Sun Journal that art — particularly his passion for songwriting and stage writing — has given him the vulnerability to express himself fully. Hughes shares this passion through his entertainment company, Joshua Hughes Entertainment. In December, Hughes also co-founded Rooted Soul Entertainment with Marco Soulo and Signature MiMi of duo Signature Soul, and with Nicole Mokeme, who was the founder and creative director of Rise and Shine Youth Retreat.
Rooted Soul’s mission is to encourage expression and mentorship through art and education for young black men in the Lewiston-Auburn and Portland areas.
Hughes said the year had been difficult with the loss of Mokeme, a black and Indigenous activist who was killed in June in a hit-and-run while in Acadia National Park. Still, Hughes said he was able to go on knowing that was what Mokeme would want and that he knew “she’s helping me from another plane.”
Last name: Joshua Hughes
Hometown: philadelphia cream
Lives now: Lewiston
How have the arts changed your life? At the risk of sounding cliché, the arts have saved my life and continue to save me on a daily basis in a way. We live in a world where we are constantly forced to be things that go against our authenticity; art gives me the opportunity to show myself dressed in the vulnerability that allows me to offer the full expression of myself, and then gives permission to others to enter into this same mentality.
Is there a medium you enjoy working with the most? I started out as a songwriter and later developed an indescribable passion for telling stories for the stage. I love both of these mediums equally because they give me the chance to marry my love for telling stories through music and scripts.
What inspired you and your collaborators (Marco Soulo and Signature MiMi Soul of Signature Soul, and the late Nicole Mokeme of Rise and Shine Youth Retreat) to start Rooted Soul Entertainment? Originally, Rooted Soul was born as a way to represent young black children in Maine who typically don’t see themselves represented in the arts by their peers and instructors. The goal was to provide free performing arts classes that would help build confidence that would be grounded in the discovery of self and identity. These children would then have the necessary tools that would allow them to create and share their own stories. Unfortunately, we have lost one of our co-founders. But it was this premature departure that caused the original concept to shift and morph into something slightly larger in nature.
What are the mission and goals of Rooted Soul? Our goals keep expanding, but the immediate ones focus on removing the false narrative of manhood. By creating a space where men can come together to discuss and challenge the status quo, we seek to heal ourselves by releasing false identities and ideas that continue to contribute to the dismantling of our families and societies. Ultimately, we want to pair these men with those who are forced to assimilate and accept the idea of what it means to be a black man in an American system. The aim is to help by offering responsibility, information and our presence to young men who might not have a source of positivity, or someone to help navigate the difficult questions that may arise around the identify.
While many young men suffer from anger, depression and identity issues because they don’t have a positive life experience, I’ve found that young black boys are more often affected by the absence of a father than their counterparts.
What brought you to Rooted Soul in Maine and the Lewiston-Auburn area? I grew up in downtown Philadelphia and first moved to Portland as a young high school student before returning to Philadelphia shortly after arriving. I have been back there since 2010.
Coming from a big city allowed me to meet and participate in many different pockets of life, which helped broaden my perspective. I see many young men growing up witnessing much of what I have done living in difficult communities. With others, I want to present healthy, positive alternatives that can be taken away and added to personal toolkits before their youthful experiences crystallize. Lewiston is my home at the moment, so it has become the place where I want to have the most impact.
What have been some of your most exciting or thrilling accomplishments – both as an artist and as an entrepreneur and organizer – so far? Most of my accomplishments have come from my personal entertainment company, Joshua Hughes Entertainment, but my greatest accomplishment will always be connecting with people and inspiring them. That people leave my presence feeling better than when they first met me is my life’s work. This is ultimately the job of these two organizations.
Rooted Soul is about eight months old now. Were there any pleasant surprises or unexpected developments? Unexpected? Yes! The loss of one of my dearest friends and a founder and collaborator of Rooted Soul seriously challenged whether I would go through with it or not. I know she wouldn’t want me to leave work, so I keep going, knowing she’s helping me from another plane. It’s not that this second part is a surprise, but it was a pleasure for me to bond with so many young men in such a short time. Their willingness to keep showing up also lets me know that the work is necessary and will never be in vain. I’m lucky.
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