How A Poet Named Fun Created A Haven For Brooklyn’s Black Artists

Fun Tillery’s monthly Sunday Funday events provide a platform for poets, rappers, and musicians — and a space for healing.

September 29, 2016
How A Poet Named Fun Created A Haven For Brooklyn’s Black Artists Photo by Ricardo Stephens

Sunday is a day of rest. A day for family, religious contemplation, or maybe just brunch. Either way, it's for taking the time to decompress before the week begins again — but that doesn’t mean you have to have to do it quietly. On the first Sunday of August, in the back room of a bar called C'mon Everybody in Brooklyn, a large, and rather loud, collection of people gathered amidst wafting spirals of incense. Huge afros were sprinkled throughout the crowd. A girl with tribal white dots painted across her nose and face sipped a drink and nodded approvingly. Under the purple tinted lights, the Chicago singer and songwriter Jessica Betts, a cowboy hat covered in painted roses perched on her head, sang a sultry rendition of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.” Sura The Poet was up next. She performed a poem so powerful I felt my melanin glowing in the dark. The finale was a routine by the NUU Knynez dancers, who gave a Broadway-worthy performance in the middle of the dance floor. As they, and others, made their way on and off the stage, the one common denominator was Fun — and I don’t mean that metaphorically.

ADVERTISEMENT

Fun is a 22-year-old poet from Washington Heights. She’s the creator and curator of Sunday Funday, a monthly showcase for black artists in the New York City area. On the surface the event seems like your average open mic but Fun goes out of her way to find new or lesser known artists to perform. No one is there by accident. Everyone on the line-up was hand picked by her and performs for free purely for their love of the unique energy of the crowd, says Fun. She tends to the crowd, making sure they stay warm, open minded, and positive. For the $10 fee at the door, you get access to Fun’s own mini indoor festival: alongside the steady stream of talent, you can check out local vendors selling handmade jewelry and clothing, and even pick up a $2 chicken or vegan empanada made by her mom. As a result, there are never any can’t-be-bothered crowds at Sunday Funday. In fact, on the night I was there, they repeated every word Sura yelled out when she asked for a call and response, and enthusiastically, at that. Sunday Fundays are about love of self and neighbor — something we all could use an extra dose of.

When I met Fun at a Columbus Circle coffee shop the day after the August edition of Sunday Funday, she was wearing her signature flower crown of bright sunflowers attached to a headband hoisting her hair up into a large beehive bun of brown locks. Around her neck sat a golden Ankh pendant. She gave me a big warm smile and greeted me with a soft but self-assured, “Hey sis.” I instantly feel welcome in her world. Having recently celebrated a year of monthly parties at C'mon Everybody, we talked about how Sunday Funday came to be and why it’s so necessary to create havens for black artists in their own communities.


So, is Fun your real name?

My name is Danisha Tillery, but everyone calls me Fun. My siblings gave me the nickname Fun. What it was is that I love tall guys — I just love tall people actually. One day my ex was like, “She's short,” and [my siblings] were like "No, She's fun-sized." So my sister just started calling me Fun.

My sister was more known in the neighborhood. She was turnt up. She would see me walking down the street and I was always the quiet one. She was the loud one and this was my little sister. So she'd be like "YO, FUN! Hey, Fun!" and then everybody in the neighborhood just picked it up. I've been called that for so long now, so I just go by Fun Tillery.

You're from Washington Heights. What brings you out to Brooklyn so much?

If I let my dad tell it, he'll tell you he's Brooklyn, American. That's his nationality. Me, I'm just trying to create my own lane outside of the club scene — my dad was one of the biggest bouncers in the city so me being a promoter of a club is kind of out the question. I'm Tillery's daughter. So I really had to create my own lane. Plus I love to write and talk.

ADVERTISEMENT

I created the Sunday Funday from meeting all these different artists at all these different events. Brooklyn kind of just welcomed me in and so I went that route. Especially considering Brooklyn is being very watered down, I thought it was be a good idea to bring some culture and some love back to Brooklyn. Brooklyn is everywhere. I feel like there's a piece of Brooklyn everywhere.

When did you start Sunday Funday?

A year at [C’mon Everybody], but I'm about to make two years actually. The concept for Funday came about from my birthday in 2014. For my birthday I was like, "I've been to all these events. I've been modeling. Let me just invite all these creatives together for my birthday and have a little cypher or whatever." It was in a loft in Long Island City but the energy there — it was magical. Everyone was like, “Fun, are you going to do this again?” So I took December to plan and then January 2015 I launched the first Sunday Funday.

What made you decide to turn it into something consistent?

That energy. It was like I found my calling. I realized that I was able to bring people together just with the energy that I leave everywhere. When they all came to spend the day with me they were like, “OK, it's Fun, so let’s just come and bring the love.” We can just tell people, "You look beautiful. I love your hair. I love you poem." Stuff like that. I was like, Wow. I create a great tone. A great aura in the room. So I just felt like it was my calling. I figured out what my purpose was — to bring people together positively. That's my strength, you know.

Why did you feel like that was necessary?

Because we did need a haven. There's so much talent especially in New York City, being a melting pot, but there's not enough authentic outlets for us to really express ourselves. It's either a competition or to see who has the best bars, who has the best poems, instead of just sharing and inspiring one another. Just us being great together, you know. So I had to create this outlet. Instead of complaining about what I don't get at other events, I can just create it. I just created my own lane.

How A Poet Named Fun Created A Haven For Brooklyn’s Black Artists Photo by Ricardo Stephens
“I figured out what my purpose was — to bring people together positively. That’s my strength.”

Why do you think your artist friends enjoy it so much?

It's definitely the love there. The energy. It can be very diverse. Someone can be doing something different, but you can really go there and the audience is gonna give you the energy right back. That's currency — currency isn't just money exchanged. It's an exchange, an exchange of energy. For anyone to be on a stage giving so much energy, it can be jaded when you see a bunch of blank faces, but when people are giving that energy right back to you, it's magical. I always tell people if someone gets on the stage and you give them 1000%, they're gonna just give you a 100% right back, and you're going to get a show despite what they're doing. Even if it's not necessarily your thing. I think Sunday Funday is very open-minded to people's different talents.

Your dad often DJs the event and your mom caters. Is it always a family affair?

ADVERTISEMENT

Yeah, because I want to inspire them. My parents are young and I'm their first born. I'm the only child from them. I don't have any other siblings with the same mom and dad. So just bringing my parents together once a month, it means so much to me. I live on my own, so it means a lot to me. I get the opportunity to keep my parents inspired. I'm watching my dad. He decided to leave New York and go to Miami, and now yesterday he told me he had to do an event for the Mayor. Music used to be a hobby for him. He would literally make mixes and put it on my phone and now he's really out there doing his thing with the DJ lifestyle. I'm really proud of him. I just want everyone to be inspired. After coming to Sunday Funday, I want them to be inspired because I don't have the answers; I only have inspiration.

When you're onstage, it sounds like you're in your living room, like the audience is your best friend. Have you always been so comfortable up there?

That's crazy. I'm one of the most shy people you will ever get to know. I'm super shy but my purpose, it really looked me in the face. So once you get to that place when you kinda figure out your purpose, you can't really go back because that's an excuse — “Oh, I'm too shy” — but no, this energy needs to be spread. That's why there's so much of it because I can also be quiet and people still feel my energy. That's who I am. I had to really just practice and I know what it feels like. For the people to be out there looking at me, I want to connect with them as if it was me out there — how I would want someone to connect with me because we're all real people, you know. I want to treat people like real people with love because it's free. The same way it's free to be aggressive with people and nasty to people and rub them the wrong way before you even get to know them. I see a lot of hosts that think making jokes about other people is a good way to entertain the audience and I just choose to go a different route and just bring the audience love because I have the right to do that as well. It's a choice.

A photo posted by @HerNameisFUN (@iloveyoufun) on

“I'm just creating that space because so many of us are hurt and hurting and we don't even know why we’re hurting. We’re hurting and we need to heal.”

What's been one of your favorite shows so far?

Definitely the Empress Vibes [shows] because I get to pull out those shy sisters that are like me at one point: "I don't know if I'm ready. I'm not sure Fun. That audience, that energy is a lot." With the Empress Vibes, that's when I really push my sisters. Like, “Come on. This is our time." It's so amazing those are like some of the most successful events because we're so creative. Women are powerful. Just seeing that many women — especially black women — encouraging and uplifting one another, it’s very admirable. People do come out to see us and it brings me great joy to know that we're able to embrace one another and encourage one another.

Have you ever thought of extending Sunday Funday to other cities?

I'm actually working on having it in Atlanta and Miami. That's why I've been going back and forth just building my network. The same way I started off here just going to different events, showing my face, doing my poems. Then when I do it out there they're gonna come out and say, "Oh I meet you a year ago and you performed at this place and I did a photoshoot with you.” That's what I'm just working on. Seeing if I still have what I had when I first started Sunday Funday in New York to make it successful in another state.

At least eight people run up and hug you every time you step off stage and walk through the crowd. What do you think it is about you that draws all these people to you?

I would say my love and my reliance. You know and when I say my love — my love is my strongest asset, but it's also what causes me a lot of pain because I do give genuine love, you know. I love the way I love myself and that's why I call myself "ILoveYouFun." I love me and through that I'm able to love you and I'm able to love this space, so I'm not gonna disrespect this space. I'm not gonna disrespect you. I'm not gonna disrespect myself. That's just the law, that's how it works. So with other people I'm forgiving, kind, nurturing, naturally because I don't know what anyone is dealing with. I would want to know that I came and spread some light in everyone's life. Be it someone on the train, a baby, a homeless person, someone on drugs. Just giving them that love because it's free.

ADVERTISEMENT

How did you get to that point with self-love?

I think that comes from my reliance, life's obstacles, and choosing to persevere through it all. Through that, you have to love yourself a lot because just as much as someone may find me beautiful and loving, someone else may feel another way and choosing to love myself through it all. It was a practice.

I accept people. I want them to truly be enlightened. Even people who do mean things to me — sometimes they'll come back and be like, “Right then, I didn't get it now I get it a little bit better.” I'm just creating that space because so many of us are hurt and hurting and we don't even know why we're hurting. We're hurting and we need to heal. So I just want to inspire that and I can only do that through me. I can't walk around [saying], “You should do this, you should do that.” I can just do it myself and you see me on my journey doing my best.


Sunday Funday takes place this Sunday 2 October at C'mon Everybody in Brooklyn.
How A Poet Named Fun Created A Haven For Brooklyn’s Black Artists