The American artist: Brisa Lauren: Through music and activism, planting seeds for positive change

Brisa Lauren
Brisa Lauren is devoted to her family, her music and her work as an activist and community organizer.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The musician and community organizer will head the San Diego Black Workers Center when it opens in August


Making music and engaging in social and political activism are vital equals for Brisa Lauren, who is blossoming anew as both a singer-songwriter and a devoted champion for equality.

“They go hand-in-hand for me,” said the San Diego native, who is the statewide civic engagement director for the United Domestic Workers and a 2021 San Diego Music Awards nominee.

“For me, it’s very important that everything I do has an intention and that my values, morals and principles are reflected in my art and whatever I devote my energy to.”

Music preceded activism by nearly two decades for this 33-year-old singer-songwriter. The daughter of a Black father and Latina mother, Lauren grew up in North Park and Mira Mesa.

She began performing in choirs as a child and immediately felt comfortable being in the spotlight. Thanks to her father’s work as a freelance music producer, Lauren was able to observe R&B recording sessions here firsthand. Her epiphany came in 2004 when she heard Lauryn Hill’s landmark 1998 solo debut album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”

“I was 16 and had been on stage for years but had never written my own songs until I heard ‘Miseducation’,” recalled Lauren, who does not use her full name, Brisa Lauren Johnson, for her musical pursuits.

“Lauryn Hill’s lyrics and the rawness of what she was saying, on top of her vocals and live instrumentation, really pushed me to use music as a form of common expression. Of course, when I started, my songs were not extremely mature. But then I began working with different rhyme structures, melodies and harmonies.”

From 2014 to last year, Lauren was in the Kendrick Dial-led San Diego band The Lyrical Groove, which won a 2013 San Diego Music Award in the Best Hip-Hop category. She released her accomplished debut solo album, “In Her Stillness,” last November.

“The coronavirus pandemic slowed us down and The Lyrical Groove had to cancel shows we had booked,” Lauren said.

“But I had already been working on a solo project and looking to finally release my songs and create my own vision. So, when our shows got canceled, it gave me more energy to put my time into my first solo project. Once that came out, I realized I really loved being the architect of my own sound and my own art.”

SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 07: Singer Brisa Lauren, shown at 1835 Creative Studios (K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)
“I want whatever I do to have a sense of purpose,” says musician and activist Brisa Lauren.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Her interest in social and political issues started in 2010, when she was a student at Mesa College. Lauren was pregnant at the time with her son, Josiah, now 11.

“I decided to take a class called ‘The Black Family,’ and it opened up my mind to the truth about my Black history that the K-to-12 school system didn’t teach me,” she recalled.

“I decided to take every Black Studies class I could, including one called ‘Black Politics,’ and I kind of accidentally ended up getting an associate’s degree in African-American/Black Studies.”

Lauren enrolled at Point Loma Nazarene University in 2012, a year before she began working as a community outreach organizer for United Domestic Workers. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from PLNU in 2014. From 2015 to 2017, Lauren was the civic engagement manager for Alliance San Diego, a community empowerment organization that promotes justice and social change by building coalitions.

She became the statewide civic engagement director for United Domestic Workers in 2017. In August, Lauren will become the director of nascent San Diego Black Workers Center. On Aug. 24, she will make her public debut as a solo artist at this year’s edition of the San Diego Music Awards at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay. She is nominated in the Best R&B, Funk or Soul Album category.

“San Diego has given so much to me, and now I’m raising my own family here. So to be acknowledged and nominated for this award means a lot to me because this is home,” Lauren said. “Music is the release for me. It’s a way of breathing that builds the fire for me to go into the next day and do the work I do.

“I believe that music and art have been used for so long as an accessory to social and political movements. Film, music, poetry, painting, dance, theater are not cultural ‘accessories.’ They are anchors. They motivate people to change their perspectives and ideologies, to open up their minds and plant seeds for positive change.

“That’s why I want whatever I do to have a sense of purpose that is rooted in something that is authentic to me.”

Brisa Lauren

Profession: Musician and community organizer

Age: 33

Birthplace: San Diego

First band: The Lyrical Groove (2014-2020)

Education: Associate’s degree in African American/Black Studies from Mesa College (2012), bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Government from Point Loma Nazarene University (2014)

Debut solo album: “In Her Stillness” (2020)

Early start: Her passion for performing began when she was 3 years old and started singing along to “The Little Mermaid” as she swung her arms and flipped her hair. “That’s when my family knew I wanted to be a singer.”

What’s next: Public debut as a solo artist at the San Diego Music Awards on Aug. 24