By David-Elijah Nahmod, April 2016 Web Exclusive.
Musician Shea Freedom has been around the block and back. By age 14 he had lost both his parents and went to to be placed in 28 different foster homes before, like 68 percent of foster youth, he was emancipated into homelessness.
"As a child I was often told what doesn't kill you will make you stronger," Freedom, 25, told Echo as he was preparing for his upcoming performance at Phoenix Pride. "So in early childhood I made that lifelong truth my mantra and combined it with my inherent obstinate nature. It also helped that at one of my very first group homes there was an on-site equine therapy program. The fact that I got introduced to horse medicine as a young child helped heal and shape my life. Horses are still providing medicine and a coping skill to this day – with hard work and a lot of faith nothing is impossible."
The faith has paid off. Freedom has been a street performer since 2009, and an in-demand solo act since 2014. He spent a little over 200 days on the road last year, as he puts it, "performing, teaching, creating."
Freedom recently moved from Aspen, Colo., to Southern California where he lives on a sailboat and is currently saving his funds to secure top surgery.
Freedom explained the significance of his post-transition chosen name.
"Shea is a representation of both genders, i.e. he/she," he said. "As for Freedom, I received this name in 2012 during the Lunar Eclipse at the start of my Medicine Walk, or spiritual path if you will. I was dancing around a fire side with nothing on but a Bob Marley flag wrapped around my waist and it said 'freedom' beneath his smiling face. Now I strive to personify my own name – Shea Freedom."
Freedom, who plays the guitar and the Native American flute, classifies his music as "folk hop," folk meets hip-hop.
"My music predominately conveys perseverance and my experience in life thus far," he said. "I love receiving messages from folks who tell me that my music has helped them in some way. Sometimes its overwhelming – in a positive way, of course."
Freedom is also and in-demand inspirational speaker. His talks are born out of his own experiences as a trauma survivor.
"The objective is always the same," he said. "Engage, advocate, educate and activate change. I often speak on choice and attitude – victim or survivor, which mentality do you choose? I include bits of my story and harrowing statistics that haunt foster youth."
One example, Freedom tells us, is that 41 percent of transgender or non-binary persons have attempted suicide.
"Sometimes I speak on PTSD and how foster youth experience it at two times the rate of returning veterans," he said.
He also addresses how childhood trauma wires the brain into survival mode. "I talk about what you can do about it, ways to rewire your brain," he added.
Currently, Freedom is in the recording studio, working on an album which will be available in July. He's also working on a DVD and a coffee table book.
Still, he said music and speaking are only the first stages of his long-term goals, which include building "transitional housing," healing and educational centers throughout the nation for former foster youth and and the trans homeless youth population.
"Call me crazy or overly ambitious but I believe with the formula of knowledge, strategy, execution and self-work, anyone can achieve anything," he said.
We assume that these are the messages he will bring to Phoenix Pride's Bistro Stage at 4 p.m. April 2, but he left that a mystery.
"You'll have to be there to witness the magic," was all he'd say.