Kids, Gender, Identity, & Custom Jewelry Design - Bario Neal

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BN’s Page Neal Talks Kids, Gender, Identity, and Custom Jewelry Design with John Francisco of Mister John’s Music

If you're raising a child in the Philadelphia or Atlanta area, chances are you've heard of Mister John. When visiting Philadelphia, you can find his charming studio in the heart of the Italian Market where Mister John, along with a talented group of teachers, teach a wide variety of virtual and in-person music classes to people of all ages - with the youngest being 3 months. He even has a TV show, with lots of "magic and sass included." 

Page Neal, Bario Neal Principal + Lead Designer, has had the true pleasure of being part of Mister John’s studio with her little ones. She even jokes that she is "considering having another baby just to get to go through Mister John’s classes again.”  After Mister John commissioned a Custom Dez Shoulder Rainbow Band from Bario Neal, we wanted to learn more about his custom design inspiration, and of course, share all of the amazing work he does everyday with our audience. To say Mister John is a gem is an absolute understatement - so read on, but have some tissues handy... just in case.

When you say “Music is for Everyone,” what do you mean?

The reason we say music is for everyone is because it’s a language everyone can speak.

Music transcends gender, age, race, abilities - it can even transcend political beliefs. I don’t share the same political beliefs as my family but when we’re together, instead of arguing, we make music. It brings us closer. It connects and humans are social beings, longing for connection and belonging.

Mister John counts the drums in multiple languages with students during class

One of the many things I love about what you do is how you break down gender norms with young children. Having taken your classes, both my children are quick to say “a color is just a color” when anyone suggests pink is a girl color or blue is a boy color. How do you work with kids to dismantle gender stereotypes and why do you feel like it should happen at such a young age, AKA 3 months?

We assign a value to sex and gender in the United States and Worldwide.  There’s a hierarchy with male at the top, female below, and other is often times given no value or even worse - negative value. We do the same with sexuality, we do the same thing with skin color. We are born into this system and societal norms indoctrinate us even further into these destructive patterns of thinking. In repeating “a color is just a color” each week, we’re attempting to encourage babies and toddlers at a very young age to actively challenge these societal structures and to remember that personhood should always be valued before gender, sex, sexuality, age, race, ability, etc. There’s no need to assign a gender/sex to a color or object - it’s just a means of division. Skin color and race is of course much more complex of an issue, with complicated, uncomfortable history of inequity, shame, and pain. How do you teach a baby/toddler about that? Well, you can’t. But you can lay a foundation for them to recognize that each individual is a person first and foremost and to find common value in what we all share - humanity, personhood, the shared desire to be seen, heard, and loved. Some people have asked me, “Why all of this stuff in a music class?” Well, music and the arts in general have always been one of the best ways to teach socially-emotionally progressive concepts. The arts make us feel things, they make us want to be better.

Ila, who has been a part of Mister John's class, models some sparkly BN rings!

How do you see LGBTQIA & Gender Equality changing for kids growing up today?

I can only speak to my own experience as a child because I know other kids had different experiences in the 80’s-90’s. When I was figuring out my own sexuality as a kid, I was scared. To be gay was to be wrong and for that you get AIDS and you die. Tomorrow. Instead of acceptance or celebration, I was immersed in a web of fear, hiding, shame. And it took decades to work through that. But things are changing for many queer kids. Not all unfortunately but many. Depending on the familial unit, there is a lot more openness for kids to express themselves WHILE they’re discovering themselves. This is so important. What it really comes down to is a child’s trust in their familial unit and the unconditional love that it is demonstrated on a daily basis. Also, seeing models of successful, valued queer people who look like them in mass media, but more importantly, personally in their everyday lives. This allows the child to say to him/her/themselves, “I could be like that. That person is loved and has a good life. I deserve to be loved and have a good life.”

Mister John showing off his new Custom Rainbow Band

What is your advice for parents and caretakers of how to create an environment that supports their children in their gender identity, orientation, and personal expression?

Expand your social circle to be diverse. Naturally we are going to find people who are in similar situations to us and we need those people, but we also need other people. If you think your kids identify as LGBTQIA, it makes a world of difference to have a family member or friend in their lives who also identifies as LGBTQIA. Also, in the words of Stephen Sondheim, “careful the things you say, children will listen.” If you are talking out of fear, children will hear that fear and perpetuate it. Don’t talk down to children. They see through that. Be transparent with them. Be metacognitive with and for them. Teach them how we have to love ourselves and how hard it is to do so sometimes, but how necessary it is.

"...personhood should always be valued before gender, sex, sexuality, age, race, ability, etc."

What is Mister John’s style?

Tailored baseball tee with an instrument on it, fitted jeans and cowboy boots or sneakers.

John's BN Custom Rainbow Band up close

What made you choose the Custom Rainbow Band in Rose Gold?

I see the creation of the rainbow ring as celebratory, a visual chosen reminder that I find pride in my sexuality because without my sexuality I would not be me and not be doing what I am doing. Without it honestly, I would not have had the experiences of ridicule that have made me value kindness. I am not kind all the time but I genuinely try to be. I want kindness to be at the core of what I do. I also love knowing that kids can see a glittering rainbow while I am playing a guitar.

Mister John, may your rainbow band always shine bright, just like you. Though Mister John’s studio celebrates PRIDE all year long, we encourage you to join them to celebrate PRIDE this June at their kid-friendly Drag Story Time (tickets required) or check out his killer Spotify PRIDE playlist. Head over to his website to learn more... and don't forget to follow Bario Neal on Instagram, where we'll be sharing some beautiful performances by Mister John himself, accompanied by his glittering rainbow band.