These Oakland Artists Transformed their Greatest Pain into Purpose

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As an artist and educator, Karega Bailey maintained a message of peace, hope and liberation. But after he lost his brother to gun violence in 2014, his grief tested him; he felt sick with revenge and hopelessness.

Turning to his faith, family and writing, Bailey, who is the MC of SOL Development, an Oakland-based hip-hop, jazz and soul ensemble, eventually found his voice and purpose again. Crucial to that journey was connecting with BE-IMAGINATIVE, a collective dedicated to healing Black and brown communities through storytelling. In healing circles and musical experiences, Bailey and SOL Development channeled their grief and love into tangible support for mothers whose children have been taken by gun violence.

Bailey’s story is at the center When the Waters Get Deep, an award-winning short documentary that premieres on the KQED Arts YouTube channel, Thursday, Feb. 10 at 6pm PST. But the 36-minute documentary is also the story of Lauren Adams, Felicia Gangloff-Bailey and Brittany Tanner—the members of SOL Development— and members of BE-IMAGINATIVE, as they embody a new vision for how art and music can reflect a community’s pain and work to heal its traumas.

Karega, sitting on floor, holds a family photo to the camera, as his parents sit on a couch behind him.
Karega Bailey, sitting with parents Sharon Bailey and Calbert "Sonny" Johnson, shares a photograph of his brother, Kareem Johnson. (Elie M. Khadra )

“I no longer could withhold the observation of living the Black experience,” says Bailey in a scene from the documentary. “We understand the helicopters. We understand police brutality. But we also understand our light within, and what our response can be to these circumstances.”

When the Waters Get Deep won Best Short Documentary at the Oakland International Film Festival in 2020, and at the 2021 National Black Film Festival. The YouTube premiere will also include a new epilogue, and a live moderated chat with members of SOL Development, BE-IMAGINATIVE, and the filmmaking team.