Episode 15: Rural Mental Health with Jeff Winton & Escaping Poverty with Dapper Dan

In this episode, we discuss suicide. If you are having thoughts of self-harm, please call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at phone number 988. Please listen with care.

Rural Minds: Jeff Winton on Being an Informed Voice For Mental Health in Rural America

Brooks Winton died by suicide at 28 years old. He was Jeff Winton’s beloved nephew, and this tragedy inspired Jeff to found the nonprofit Rural Minds.

Both Jeff and Brooks come from a long line of dairy farmers in upstate New York in an extremely small community of only 500 people. Some members of that community urged Jeff’s family to lie about Brooks’ cause of death. Though perhaps well-meaning, Jeff’s mother refused to be silenced, and they opened up this important conversation around mental health issues in rural communities.

The mission of Rural Minds is to:

  • Foster understanding of mental health issues being just as serious as physical health issues
  • Give permission for people to talk about these issues and share within their own communities
  • Assist these communities in finding resources for mental health issues

A Lack of Mental Health Help

In addition to the lack of medical help in rural areas across the board, most rural counties have a severe lack of mental health resources. In fact, 65% of rural counties do not have a psychiatrist working in those counties.

Telehealth options have helped, but in those rural communities have no or inadequate broadband internet access to avail themselves of any kind of telehealth options.

Rural Mind is taking their message to where people are already congregating, so they’ve partnered with existing organizations to take the message into that venue.

Though Rural Minds is a young organization, Jeff is committed to doing this work across his state and across the country because he knows all too well the need within this community.

From Poverty in Harlem to Partnered with Gucci

“The most painful part of being poor is not being hungry, but people knowing that you’re hungry.”

Fashion mogul Dapper Dan shares his story of growing up poor in a multicultural neighborhood in Harlem. As one of seven children, Dapper Dan lived in hand-me-down clothes, which eventually fed his desire to find his own fashion. He realized the transformative power of clothing, and that power became Dapper Dan’s passion.

Eventually, Dapper Dan traveled to Africa and then designed Africanized clothing when he got back to the United States. As a writer at the student newspaper 40 Acres and Mule, Dapper Dan had the opportunity to go to Africa, and he jumped at the chance.

On subsequent trips to Africa looking for ways to Africanize fashion in the United States, Dapper Dan traded his clothes with the vendors in the marketplace, and then ran back to his hotel to bring all of his clothes to trade.

Dapper Dan’s Advice For the Youth

“Before you can build the brand, you must first build the man (or woman.)” Dapper Dan talks about taking self-inventory and changing himself internally and spiritually in order to be able to effect change and progress. It has to come from within.

Dapper Dan played in the street in front of Langston Hughes’ home, and he identifies his story with the poem “Harlem,” and later the play by Lorraine Hansberry “A Raisin in the Sun.”



What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes, "Harlem" from The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Copyright © 2002 by Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates, Inc.

The Invisible Americans EP 015


Jeff Winton, Dapper Dan, Carol Jenkins, Jeff Madrick

The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Carol Jenkins

Hello, and thanks so much for joining The Invisible Americans Podcast with Jeff Madrick and Carol Jenkins. We address the travesty of child poverty here.

Jeff Madrick

There are nearly 13 million children living in serious material deprivation in America, and we don't see them. They are our invisible Americans, and we plan to change that.

Carol Jenkins

A couple of words about us. The podcast is based on Jeff's book, Invisible Americans: The Tragic Cost of Child Poverty. He's an economics writer, author of seven and co-author of another four books on the American economy.

Jeff Madrick

Carol is an Emmy-winning journalist, activist, and author. Most recently, president of the ERA Coalition working to amend the constitution to include women.

Carol Jenkins

We are longtime colleagues and friends.

The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Jeff Madrick  

In today's episode we examine often overlooked concentrations of poverty. In particular in rural America, where deprivation can be severe, and help is especially hard to find. Not only hunger, but mental illness and suicide rates in rural America are rising. And we talk with influential designer Daniel Day known as Dapper Dan, an exceptional success story. He grew up very poor in New York City, he’s now on Time Magazine's Most Influential list. And he has some words of wisdom for kids now living in poverty, especially insightful words.

Carol Jenkins  

Today, we began with Jeff Winton who started the organization Rural Minds when his nephew suddenly and unexpectedly committed suicide. The family members are a farming family in upstate New York, they courageously came forward with their relative struggle, and are now working to provide help to others in rural communities. We urge all listening to this episode to call the suicide and crisis hotline at 988. If you need help, the hotline number again, is 988. Thank you so much for joining us. And please tell us how you founded your organization. It's really such a moving story.

Jeff Winton  

Rural Minds was founded as a result of a family tragedy. I'm from a long line of dairy farmers in upstate New York. And my 28 year old nephew Brooks, who was also a dairy farmer died very suddenly and very unexpectedly by suicide. Without warning, we had no idea that he was suffering with mental illness of any nature. And so this is a result of what my family experienced. And what happened in the community following my nephew's death.

Carol Jenkins  

I know that the question that you had about his funeral that you asked your mother about was whether or not you would actually say what happened? And she said we have to?

Jeff Winton  

Yes, that's absolutely right. When my nephew died, and again, this is a town of 500 people, where everyone knows everyone and my family has been here for so long that my family certainly well known that when my nephew was found following his suicide, we had a number of community members and even family members, stating that we shouldn't talk about what really happened. They were even suggesting we should talk about the fact that my nephew died in a farming accident or died of a heart attack. Keep in mind, he was a very healthy, very gregarious, 28 year old that had no health problems that we knew of, at least physical health problems. 

My mother who was the true matriarch in every sense of the word, who had raised my nephew because of his father's own mental illness, struggles, with tears running down her face in the pastor study of the small town United Methodist Church, said, Pastor, we're not only going to talk about this, we're going to talk about it in detail, because enough is enough. This community has been suffering and we've been dealing with this for too long, and our family is going to now start talking about this. 

And so it was really my late mother, who was the reason that we founded Rural Minds. I'm just the messenger here. I'm just the person that took this and ran with it actually, after my mother's passing. And we're convinced my mom died of a broken heart. Due to my nephew's suicide, she was never really the same following his death.

Jeff Madrick  

I think we're all somewhat in awe of how you built this up. Mental illness is so hidden. So often, what I find most interesting, that mental health problems are a higher proportion of the population in rural America than urban America. And how do you go about distinguishing all of that? In the readings we got, I didn't see much evidenceof how you measured mental health.

Jeff Winton  

First of all, our organization has only been in existence for a year and a half. So we are in the process of trying to put metrics in place to really measure the impact we're having. But where we started, where we truly feel the need to be in small towns, like where I'm talking to you from in Western New York and Lake Erie, is getting people to (a) realize that mental illness is an illness, just like cardiovascular diseases, just like COVID is, just like diabetes is. 

People readily talk about physical illness in small towns and on farms, but they still will not talk about depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety. So achieving that realization is one of our first goals. The second goal is to get other people to tell their story. Once people are given their permission to talk about this, the floodgates open, and they share openly and they share readily. But until you get people to talk about what's happened in their family, it's going to be very difficult to get them to go and seek the help that is readily available. 

So those are really the two things that we've worked on the past year and a half since we founded this organization, is to try to destigmatize this, and get people to consider it an illness, and also to get them talking about it. And inevitably, no matter how many times I tell my family story, no matter what the venue is, I always have people waiting to talk to me after. And in many cases, it's the first time they've publicly shared their own family story, which is a real honor to me. I mean, I do not take this lightly. And it's something that is such a privilege to hear these stories. And then I'm hoping once they've told the story to me, that we can help them find the assistance that they may need, even though they may have lost somebody to various form of substance use disorder or mental illness.

Carol Jenkins  

Jeff, talk to us about what is available to the rural population, the number of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers are very much limited and your website does a terrific job of saying call the suicide hotline and, and other resources but talk with us just the sheer, lack of availability of serious mental health.

Jeff Winton  

There's an issue with health overall in rural America. I've moved back to the small farming town a year and a half ago, and literally waited eight months to see a primary care physician. So even GPs are in shortage in rural areas like where I live, but 65% of counties that are considered rural in this country do not have psychiatrists. And one of the things that was really shocking when we started looking at this as it relates to young people, while 64% of all US counties have at least one mental health facility serving young people, only 30% of rural counties have facilities that are focused on helping young people. 

Another very sobering statistic is within the last year. The statistics show that one out of every five high school students in grades nine through 12 have seriously considered dying by suicide. That's 20% of our high school students. And so we do have a huge problem. Telemedicine has certainly been a help in certain areas. But something that a lot of people don't realize in rural areas, 30% of families still do not have broadband. And that's broadband at all. And then another large percentage of families have an adequate broadband. 

What our goal is, is to get people–we do whatever we can to drive people to our website, where we have aggregated a lot of the resources that already exist. Mental health and mental illness is not a new subject. There are many other organizations like NAMI, and MHA, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, that have been in existence for a very long time who have done wonderful work. 

Our goal is to get what already exists into the hands of the 46 million people who live in rural America. That's the staggering percentage of the American population that lives in small towns, fishing villages, indigenous communities, and on farms and ranches, like where I live. And so we do not want to reinvent the wheel. But we're working very hard. And in partnership, by the way, with these other organizations, to make sure that we are getting these resources to the people that we advocate for. 

The new 988 Number was just launched a year ago. And it is a 24/7/365 Suicide Prevention number that even someone like myself can remember. But 988 now is a nationwide number, that at any point at any time someone can call to get assistance. And they in turn will then help the individual find longer term care, regardless where in the country they reside.

Jeff Madrick  

Have your group found a distinct relationship between cognitive development and mental health?

Jeff Winton  

Well, there certainly is a correlation. I'm no expert in this area. But schools in rural America, even when I was going to school, which was a long time ago, were always struggling, they were always every year fighting to get the school budget passed. And I was the first in my family to go to college. I was very fortunate that my parents worked multiple jobs, including farming in order to afford to send me to college. And even though I did well in the high school I went to, I got to Cornell University where I did my undergraduate work. And I was lost, I was very ill prepared for what I was about to encounter. 

Fortunately, I was tenacious and persevering and found a lot of wonderful resources that helped me get through the four years and actually flourish. But I wasn't as prepared as I should have been. And so a lot of the cognitive development that takes place, of course during the formative years, during high school, especially coming off from COVID, where again, it was a real struggle for people in rural America to even keep up with their kids' schoolwork. And so yes, I would say that with my limited knowledge on the question you ask, that there is a direct correlation.

Carol Jenkins  

Jeff, I'm wondering about the children. And I see that you do a lot of outreach to farming associations and all, and you're lowering the level like the 4-H clubs, and how do you reach the children in rural America to get this information to them?

Jeff Winton  

Our goal, Carol, is to take our message to where people are already congregating. Because we know that people in rural America, including my own family, tend to be a tad suspicious of people coming in from the outside, but you need to gain their trust and you need to have credibility. That takes a while to establish. So what we have done over the past year and a half, is identify those community organizations that already exist, and then we partner with them to take our message into that venue. 

One of the organizations we partner with is called the National Grange. The National Grange has been in existence for 156 years. It's the largest and oldest agricultural organization in the country. They have 1500 locations across the country, including many in upstate New York. So that's where generations of families have gone, or education for social events. And so partnering with them, and I've done a lot of speaking at local greens meetings across the country, both in person and over zoom like this, we've been able to really have our message resonate, because these are trusted places where people have been going for many many years, as opposed to if we had decided to start a support group of our own, and try to get people to go to that, especially on a zoom call like this. It just wouldn't happen. And if it did, it wouldn't happen readily. 

So partnering with churches, with 4-H, with FFA, even with schools, we're now talking to a number of schools about doing this in rural America. We are taking our message to establish places where we have open minds, and we have people that are readily willing to accept the message that we're delivering.

Carol Jenkins  

Well, Jeff, thank you so much for the terrific work you are doing and for coming and sharing it with us.

Jeff Winton  

Well, thank you very much for this opportunity. And we would ask your listeners to visit us at ruralminds.org where you can find out much more information on our organization.

Jeff Madrick  

You're doing great work. Thank you.

Jeff Winton  

Thank you both. Appreciate it very much.

The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Carol Jenkins  

Daniel Day tells a powerful story in his bestselling memoir, Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem

. It was on Vanity Fair's best books list. And he is a fashion designer to the stars on Time Magazine's Most Influential list.

Jeff Madrick  

As we've said he grew up in extreme poverty in Harlem, faced many setbacks in his career. And now he's in a design partnership with the famed fashion line Gucci. He has some useful advice, and they're not cliches for kids living in poverty map.

Carol Jenkins  

Dapp, Thank you so much for being with us today. I'm, as you know, a big fan of yours. We had a conversation on Black America, where I fell in love with a red suit you're wearing and I'm looking forward to a copy of it. When you have spare time.

Dapper Dan  

You're one of my idols, I could not see myself failing you the way that you have fired me. You know, journalism was my first passion. And fashion just came as a side package. Because I couldn't get the big package.

Carol Jenkins  

Well, we're so happy that you pursued fashion. I've been listening to the audiobook. I love your book. And I love too about the audio version is that you actually read the prologue. So we get to hear your voice telling your story. If you could talk to us about your life, because I think in the beginning of your book, you're quoting James Baldwin, and saying people who haven't been poor don't understand how expensive it is. Talk to us about your life as a poor child in New York City.

Dapper Dan  

I think the most painful part of being poor is not being hungry, but people knowing that you're hungry. I could deal with the hungry, with being hungry. Dealing with people knowing that I'm hungry, that's the most painful part. I saw that change during my lifespan because I was born and raised in Harlem. I always consider myself fortunate because I was born in the village of Harlem, and that in the community of Harlem. 

In the village of Harlem, I was fortunate enough to have European friends, Jackie Michaels, who was Irish, and Bobby Bomonti and Richie Bomonti, who were Italian, Alonso [INAUDIBLE] who were Greek, and they were all slightly, just slightly more fortunate to me than myself because we all lived in the same building, in the same neighborhood. 

The painful part was, they had a little bit better clothes than me. I had hand-me-downs, they had fresh gear. One thing I haven't shared a lot though, the Bomonti family, the Italian Bomonti family who lived in the building next to my home. Every Christmas, their father used to make sure they give me their toys from last Christmas. It wasn't so much, the not having is–for the world to see that you don't have And interesting enough that I saw all of them leave home and then being poor wasn't as painful as it was when they were there, because we were all poor together. But not only that, when everybody's poor it doesn't hurt, when everybody's hungry it doesn't hurt. But when you're the only one that's hungry, and everybody knows you’re hungry. They can see your hunger. It’s a different feeling. 

Jeff Madrick  

I write about poverty sometimes and I make that point a lot. There's shame and hunger, and the kids have to live with that shame. People tell me that's not the biggest problem. Hunger is a big problem. So how do you deal with real hunger, did it hurt you?

Dapper Dan  

It's a moral compromise, because you justify stealing food. When I was growing up in Harlem, the first Italian ghetto in New York City was in Harlem They had the San Janeiro festival there. The Puerto Ricans had the first Puerto Rican Day Parade, we had the first African American parade, so we’re all there together. But when we used to come back from school, we might snatch your apple or orange, something like that. 

Food played a big part in it, you know. But I think the most painful part, there's something about how you get food. And when people had to line up – today there’s no problem. I go by the churches and see people lined up to get the free food. But that was like when you were designated as the family member that had to go get the shopping cart, and go pick up the welfare cheese, and pick up the welfare milk and all of that. That was really painful. So that's what I'm saying. To be identified as being poor, is way more painful than the idea of being poor. I mean, the physical pain of being poor.

Carol Jenkins  

Dapp, you are one of seven children, and you talk about your shoes, and the story of your brother getting you a pair of shoes after having worn out the soles, so many times.

Dapper Dan  

Those were hand-me-downs, all the clothes that I received early on. I was the fourth boy. So everything comes down to me eventually. But that's a lot of wear and tear. And so I didn't mind the holes in the shoes, because all my friends had opened shoes, right? But we were pretty creative with it. Initially, we used to put paper in there. But then we got really more advanced that we started taking linoleum and putting it in there. 

But on this particular day, there wasn't enough border left for my shoes to support the linoleum. So I went home, I think I was eight years old. I was miserable. And I tell mom my feet is killing me. And my brother was standing there, my next oldest brother, Cary, and before my mother could say anything. He said, “Wait.” He said, “Don’t worry, Mom.” He said, “Come on Danny boy.” The family call me Danny boy. And we walk four blocks to Goodwill's, and I remember turning the corner, and we go into Goodwill's and my brother said, “You see some shoes you like?” and I never forget them shoes. There was split toe with the tassel, like a mahogany brown. He said, “Try them on.” I try them on and put them on for you. He said, “How do you feel?” I said they feel good. He said, “Okay, pick the shoes up, put them in the rack.” I put them in the rack, and he said, “Let’s go.” So that's the kind of experience that I had. 

Jeff Madrick  

I want to ask you about your clothing business. How you got so fascinated by it, how you got soo good about it. A little bit of literature we have on you tells us that you really learn to Africanize American fashion by going to Africa, which I think is pretty adventurous. As a poor young man, where did this audacity come from? This ambition and drive.

Dapper Dan  

It all started–and I didn't realize this until I went to Africa. It all started with the transformative effect that clothes have. I told you the pain of people knowing that you're poor, more than even feeling that you're poor. So if you look at the old footage, nobody went on 125th Street in Harlem, if they wasn't dressed. That was an embarrassment. I learned about the transformative effect of clothes early on. Because if I had some nice clothes, if I snuck my brother's clothes out the house and put them on and went on 125th Street, nobody knew how poor I was. So early on, I understood the transformative power that clothes have. That naturally stayed with me. And I notice how the first thing you want to do, coming out of the ghetto of Harlem, was to show people that you're somebody now. 

Now, let's take a look at how I grew up. And I wish we could take a walk where I grew up. I was a stone's throw from the Harlem River. That's where we used to swim at, me and my best friend William Gonzalez and my other two friends, Curtis and Herman and Thurman, we used to swim in it. And one of the things I learned early on was that, I didn't even know that that was so disgusting to people outside of the community because all the sewage went in there, you know? But to us there was normal–and so the same thing with clothes. If you transform yourself and later on we start going to the bathhouse some place where the water was clean, and later on, I got clothes that I could dress up with. Taking my brother's clothes out, I noticed that these things transform me, but nothing transformed me more than clothes did. And fashion is an instant way to transform from. People in the projects didn't know I lived in a tenement. And when I walked by the river to that middle class African American community, they didn't know I lived in a tenement, somebody would have to tell them. What made the difference was clothes. So that stayed with me.

Carol Jenkins  

We should point out that now you have a famous collaboration with Gucci, you're one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People, a celebrity with your own table at the Met Gala. All of these things are tremendous signals of huge success in the fashion world. You went through a period where you were a gangster. I mean, you were a dice-throwing expert. That's how you made it through the young part of your life. So I'm looking for the advice that you have to give for making that transition, you're wearing your clothes. And you know that people are not looking down on you because you're looking good. So how do you internalize that, you get to the point where you actually are feeling good about yourself, period, the way you are now?

Dapper Dan  

I think that was like giving birth from within. One of the things that sustained me and my family early on. We went to church three times a week, mostly because them frankfurters and them free meals and stuff. We went to church three times a week. My mother used to ask me and my aunt, okay, the congregation, in a little storefront church that I went to was, let's say maybe 30 people. And 18 of us was in the same family, Reverend Hudson, who was married to my aunt. They told me to read the Bible. I would read a few phrases of the Bible, and they start screaming and jumping and the Holy Ghost to hit them up and seem like my mom and my aunt will compete against who the Holy Ghost hit the hardest. 

That was the first escape for me before clothing. The first escape for me, the first thing that made me feel good about myself was going to church and being part of that Holy Ghost thing, because even with the shoes–I remember my Uncle Hudson said, “Don't worry about your shoes.” He said, “We are going to heaven, all God’s children got shoes. So don't worry about that.” 

But you know, I experienced a change. I saw my mother change. The hereafter gospel sustained me because you're gonna be alright in heaven. But it didn't keep working for me. And it didn't even keep working for us because that's why we have prosperity theology now so it was beginning to [INAUDIBLE] there with great reverends like Daddy Grace, Prophet Divine, Prophet Jones. That was coming into being. Every morning that I got up. I listen to Joe Bostick, gospel caravan. The Holy Ghost was hitting us every morning before we left the house to go to school. But when the Holy Ghost wore off, and the reality hit, that's when things begin to change. 

After the ‘50s, everybody was gone, the middle class, African Americans was gone. My Italian friends was gone, my Greek friends was gone. My Irish friends was gone. And then everything changed. The whole picture changed, you know. So all I had was me. Now I had to make a transformation. So what happened in the Nation of Islam with the Black Theology hit, and I would watch my family all get swept up into that. But fortunately for me, my brother was a reader, you know, and I read everything. So I was like, a little removed from the philosophy there. But what I did like is, in the ‘50s, if you was Black, stand back, if you brown, stick around. And if you white, all right. In the ‘60s, everything changed. We were poor, but we had an identity. And so that changed a lot. And I had to even evolve from that.

Jeff Madrick  

What about your mother being an advocate of Marcus Garvey?

Dapper Dan  

So it really started with her. My father didn't play that church stuff. He just was a good man, period. My father was a practical thinking person. But she was conscious. That's why she was the Garveyite. 

My father was born in Emporia, Virginia, population when he left between 3,000 and 6,000. My mother was born in Bishopville, South Carolina, population when she left between 3,000 and 6000. Population today is the same. I asked them, they never ever went back. And I kept asking why they went back. And it didn't occur to me till recently the Emmett Till story. And when I heard the Emmett Till story, I say, wow. When Emmett Till was brutalized, right? He was 15. I was 12. So I say, wow, that's why my family never went back. That's what the South was like. 

So that revolutionary spirit that my mother and father had was something. 

Jeff Madrick  

And if I could ask one question about African fashion, how did you get to have the confidence that African fashion would sell, or your version of African fashion would sell in the US?

Dapper Dan  

After I changed my life at the age of 23, I was very radical. I was writing for a student newspaper, I'm sure you–40 Acres and a Mule. And we used to have Black scholars come through all the time, and one of which was Dr. Henry Clark. And when Dr. Henry Clark came, I had an identity crisis, me and all the young kids around that time. And we were reacting to that identity crisis, the stigma associated with 400 years of slavery. 

When Dr. Henry Clark came, and one of the students on the editorial board like myself, he said to Dr. Henry Clark, he asked Dr. Henry Clark this question. If the African people are the original people on the planet, why are we suffering the way we are today? And Dr. Henry Clark’s answer was – this is what like, led me away from all the different philosophies in the Black community and took away the stigma of slavery. His answer was, that's because of a transgression we made against ourselves before Europeans came into our lives. 

That shook my whole world at that time, because here I am angry about slavery. I began to look at slavery not as a cause of what was happening to me, but more like an effect that took place before my time. So I was one of the better students at the newspapers, the 40 Acres and a Mule. You can see copies of it at the Schomburg Library, especially the articles I wrote. I was kind of shocked with that statement, because he never elaborated. And I needed to find out what happened. If slavery is the primary cause of us being in a situation we in, then what really happened? 

I had an internship with Columbia University over the summer, leading to a scholarship going to Columbia University, or, because I was one of the better writers on this newspaper, I can go on a seven-country trip on a living to Africa. I had this burning feeling that I needed to know. So I went to Africa. So I came back with an African mentality, Afro-American mentality that was different from everybody. And I kept me quiet. I never told the Islamic people in the nation, Islam and all of them. I just kept all that to myself, because I pay close attention to what happened to Malcolm, when you have differences with radical dangerous people sometimes. So when I got back, I said, I have to go back. And when I went back, that's when the big thing happened, right? 

I went for the International Festival for people of color. All the musicians from around the world, and also for Muhammad Ali's Rumble in the Jungle. On that trip, is when the whole idea of Africanizing fashion came to me. So I'm on my way back. And I say, I'm going to get me some artifacts, because I need something to take back and I go to the marketplace, and I have all these artifacts. And the guy–I'm Dapper Dan now. I had made a name for myself for the way I was dressed and the money I had accumulated from the street culture. And the guy liked my clothes. He says, “I like what you wear.” I say, “You want to trade?” He said, “Yes.” 

I ran up into the hotels. I didn't care about the American clothes I had. I went up the hotel, got all my luggage and exchanged everything that I was wearing for artifacts. And for him to make me an outfit. That outfit became the birth of Africanizing European fashion. So what I had him do was–the African Americans the way we dress, and I use African fabrics. And I had him make me an outfit, and I came back. And then, lo and behold, years later. I never forgot that. And that's how the whole idea was born.

Carol Jenkins  

That is an incredible story. We’d love to talk with you forever, you'll have to come back. But I do want you to give some advice to a young person who sees what you've made of your life coming from extreme poverty, hunger, and all that goes with it. What words of advice do you have for the young people that were working so hard to make sure that their lives are better?

Dapper Dan  

The most critical advice that I can give them is–especially if you’re into fashion–before you can build the brand, you must first build the man. I had to start inside, I had to make a spiritual transformation inside. The first brand you build is yourself. The person that I had to become, the spiritual attributes, the living habits that I had to adapt to, that's what changed. Change and progress always starts with yourself. Young people have to really understand that. If you can't change yourself, the chances you changing your environment, or your ability to function in your environment is going to fall short. 

I do self inventory, then as well as now. I think a lot of young people like what I call a crisis attitude is that, take inventory. if you know what you're doing is wrong and you can't change that, you’re not going to change your world. You have to change your inner world, if you want to change the conditions that exist in your outer world. So with that, I'll close and say once again, you can't build a brand without first building a man or woman. 

I went to PS24 in Harlem. While I was playing in that street, little did I know right in that street–and I play street adjacent to the school–Langston Hughes was living in that house. It's no way he could have not seen me playing in that street because our school yard and the play street was directly across the street from his house. And I said I made up my mind and said, right now my brownstone in Harlem. I’m one block away. And every time I hear the children's voices playing in the schoolyard, I take the legs in use. And I say if I stay here, if I can say one word that would change young people. I say, maybe it's you know–and his poem, Harlem and how he inspired Lorraine Hansberry to write A Raisin in the Sun. That's my whole story. 

I hope that I can get people to latch on to just something that will change him like that changed me. So thank you guys for helping me. Thank you for bringing me closer to reaching some young person. I'm not as profound as Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry or Dr. Henry Clark. But maybe it's just one little thing I can say that has changed a young person who grew up poor like I did.

Carol Jenkins  

Great. Thank you so much Dapp for being with us today.

Jeff Madrick  

Dapp, you're an intelligent and insightful guy with an emphasis on what the world is about. So we really appreciate your coming and talking to our audience.

Dapper Dan  

Thank you so much.

The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Jeff Madrick

History will judge the nation's decency in various ways, one of them will surely be the well-being of all its children. American neglect of its poor children is both inexplicable and deplorable. By basic measures, it has the highest child poverty rate among rich nations in the world. A generation of careful academic research has shown how damaging this has been to children's cognition, health, nutrition, and future wages. In 2021, Congress and the president adopted an enlightened program that expanded the Child Tax Credit and made it available to almost all children no matter their race, ethnicity, or how little their parents earned. The results were stunning, cutting the poverty rate by half. But Congress refused to renew the program. In coming months, this podcast will examine the future of the Child Tax Credit and other key policies to protect children from the destructiveness of poverty. We are dedicated to restoring a bright and optimistic future for all children in this land long celebrated for equal opportunity.

Carol Jenkins  

Thanks so much for joining us on the Invisible Americans Podcast available wherever you get your podcasts, but we urge you to visit our website for transcripts, show notes, research and additional information about our guests and their work. That's www.theinvisibleamericans.com. Please follow us on social media and our new YouTube channel. And our blog posts are up on Medium as well as our website. That's www.theinvisibleamericans.com Jeff and I will see you the next time.

The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Jeff Winton

Founder of Rural Minds

Jeff Winton is founder and chairman of Rural MindsTM, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to serve as the informed voice for mental health in rural America, and to provide mental health information and resources.

When his nephew, Brooks Winton, died by suicide in 2012, Jeff’s late mother, Elaine, who helped raise Brooks, courageously ignored the guidance of some local community members and urged Jeff to speak at the funeral about Brooks’ struggle. An outpouring of support and hearing from other farm families about their own struggles around mental health convinced him to devote a significant portion of his energies to connecting rural Americans to much-needed mental health services.

In addition to being the founder and chairman of Rural Minds, Jeff is the founder and owner of Wall Street Dairy LLC, a working family dairy farm in Chautauqua County, New York, and a member of a multigenerational farm family. He has worked four decades as a communications and corporate affairs leader with Fortune 100 corporations and respected public relations and advertising agencies. This global experience spans highly diverse and dynamic industries, including the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, animal health, agricultural and consumer arenas.

Winton is also chief executive officer of Jeff Winton Associates, a full-service communications and corporate affairs agency he co-founded in 2020. He has deep experience – on both a professional and extremely personal level – with efforts to educate about depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance use disorder and other forms of mental illness that has led him to create Rural Minds.

Jeff graduated with distinction from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, with a bachelor’s degree from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and completed graduate level courses at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He currently serves on the Cornell University Council and the Dean’s Advisory Council for Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He previously served on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University and in 2020, he was named Outstanding Alumni for the college.

He also served on the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean’s Advisory Council and was named Outstanding Alumni 2020. Winton belongs to a number of agricultural organizations including the American Farm Bureau, Upstate Niagara Cooperative, Holstein Association USA, and many others.

Dapper Dan

Global fashion icon

Daniel Day, known as Dapper Dan, is a Harlem couturier known as the “king of knock-ups.” A New York Times bestselling author and global fashion icon with a remarkable rags to riches story. Dapper Dan pioneered streetwear in the early 1980s with his eponymous store on 125th Street, co-opting luxury branding to design original garments with high-end detail.

Known for using exquisite furs, leathers and other fine materials, he first drew powerful New York hustlers as clientele, who all came due to his strong street reputation as a legendary professional gambler and dandy. He then went on to outfit entertainers and other celebrities including Eric B & Rakim, LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, Big Daddy Kane, Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Aaliyah, Mike Tyson, P.Diddy, Floyd Mayweather and many more.

In 2017 Gucci partnered with Dapper Dan to reopen his atelier as well as release a Gucci-Dapper Dan collaboration exploring the design synergies between the designer and Gucci’s creative director.

Dapper Dan has been featured on platforms including The New York Times, Elle, Vogue, W, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, CNN, and Netflix. His works have been on display at The Smithsonian, The Museum at FIT, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art and The Baltimore Museum of Art.