by dj parkour
I’m telling y’all, everything is cosmic. Every small moment, every small decision, and every little thought that guides our actions inevitably lead to our future. I preface my article with this thought because every single detail of today’s event, without me knowing it, inexplicably paved the way for me to finally make a human connection with the woman that has changed my life: Kehlani.
If you aren’t already aware, Kehlani is an icon of today’s generation of music, both in the genre she dominates and the overall sphere of entertainer influence on society. At a mere 24 years of age, Kehlani Ashley Parrish’s life tells a narrative of triumph over tribulations, whether it be her father’s death when she was a mere toddler, to her mother’s drug addiction and imprisonment, to the everyday struggle of a queer, POC femme.
Her influence has swept through the contemporary R&B and hip-hop genre, both in musical and societal manners. She provides a space in mainstream media for artists of color, as well as queer and femme creators, to be represented and normalized as something that doesn’t always have to be considered “niche.” Her monumental steps in promoting the visibility of diversity in everyday society have created a profound impact on the celebration of marginalized folks across all bounds, whether it be sexuality, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or otherwise.
Now, picture this: It’s around 4PM on a Wednesday and I’m fully buried in my bed, indulging in the sweet, sweet freedom of summer vacation before my soon-to-start seasonal job at Vans takes it all away from me. I’m rewatching old SNL skits on YouTube when I receive a post notification on Instagram from my queer, femme, POC Lord and Savior: Kehlani.
I don’t usually check every post she makes immediately but something internal drives me to look, and this is what I find:
Now keep in mind, I live in Orange County and this impromptu meet-and-greet was supposed to go down on one of the busiest streets in Hollywood in less than two hours. Regardless, I instantly jump out of bed, put on my flyest bucket hat, grab one of the many paintings I’ve created of Kehlani, hop in my car, and start driving.
Before I know it, I’m standing in a several-hundred-person-long line with my friend Ian, hoping and praying that I may have even a glance of Kehlani to make the trek worth it. There comes a point, about half an hour in, that I decide to go inside the Urban Outfitters and purchase a While We Wait vinyl for her to sign when I eventually meet her.
I walk in, look around for a few minutes, and realize that none are left in the LP display. I walk up to the woman at the register and ask, “Hey, are there any Kehlani vinyls left? I’d love to buy one for her to sign.”
I’m met with an extremely confused face.
“I’m so sorry but there aren’t any left and this event is actually limited to those who were able to buy a vinyl. If you don’t have wristband, they won’t let you in.”
My heart instantly sinks to my stomach. I nod in mournful understanding, thank her for her time, and begin to walk away. As I start to turn around, she sees the painting in my hand.
“Oh my goodness, did you make that yourself? It’s absolutely beautiful!”
I smile gratefully, explaining that Kehlani has been, and will always be, one of my greatest inspirations as both an artist and a human being. I explain that I drove several hours through horrendous Los Angeles traffic to be here, just on the off chance that I may catch a glimpse at my hero. I crack a few jokes and we bond over both being from Orange County, me consistently sprinkling in reminders of how much it would mean for me to meet her.
The expression on this employee’s face slowly turns from amusement to sympathy.
“Y’know what? You deserve to meet her. Of all the people I’ve spoken to today, I want you to speak to her the most. If anything, you should at least leave it with a note and I swear, I won’t let anyone throw it out. It will get to her. Let me call my manager.”
Minutes pass as I’m milling around the register, waiting for a response. At one point, a second sales associate even approaches to ask if she can help me with something. I tell her the same thing I told the first person, to which she lets out an exasperated sigh and says, “It’s a nice painting but there’s no way you’ll get in.”
I simply brush off this comment and finally, the Urban Outfitters manager arrives and approaches me.
“Are you the one who’s asking for a wristband? I’m sorry but the event is limited, time is tight, and it’s just not going to happen.”
I tell her the same story I told her employee and as it happened with the first person I spoke to, a glimmer of empathy reaches her eyes.
“Give me a second.”
She runs into the back and after a few minutes, she returns. She steps close to me and reaches out her hand, a red wristband sitting inside of it.
“Go back in line and don’t tell anyone how you got this. I hope she loves your painting.”
Fast forward a few hours and I turn the corner, still in line, and finally catch my first glance at Kehlani. With her fiery red hair and glowing bronze skin, stuntin’ in her new TSNMI apparel, she is every bit as captivating in person as she is while performing onstage.
The security checks my band and lets me into the private area where I wait patiently in line, it slowly dwindling as a pit of anxiety enters my stomach. What am I going to say? How am I going to act? This is the woman that has inspired almost every step I’ve taken since the day I stumbled upon her music. Before I even have a moment to process my next move, it’s my turn. The pushy event coordinators take my phone out of my hand and tell me to hurry onstage; the meet-and-greet is reaching a close and everyone is clearly antsy to wrap up and go home.
I look up and meet eyes with her and my stomach drops right out of my body. She wears a tinge of fatigue, being a new mother with so many other obligations as an international star. Regardless, she gives me a kind and genuine smile as I step up to greet her. She gives me a hug and says into my ear, “How are you?” I reply and ask her the same, her responding and thanking me for asking.
“I have a little present for you, too. I painted it when I first heard Honey a while back.”
She doesn’t look at it at first, giving me a quick thank you, seeing as though it must’ve been one of many gifts she had received that day. I tell her that I wrote a message for her and Adeya (her newborn daughter) on the back. This catches her attention, her immediate smile signaling to me that my inclusion of her child must’ve been special. She turns the painting around and looks at it for the first time.
“Oh my god, this is so pretty. Thank you.”
We turn to the camera, snap a few photos, and I turn back to her. As I open my mouth to finally tell her how much she has changed my life, I receive an aggressive tap on my shoulder. I turn to see the man that took the photo of us together. He hands me my phone, looks me in the eyes and says, “Thank you, bye!”
I feel myself being pushed offstage and despite the disappointment I feel about not being able to fully articulate how much Kehlani has changed my life, I understand. I begin to walk down the steps when suddenly, I hear a simple “Hey!” from behind me.
I turn around and see Kehlani smiling at me.
“Seriously, that painting is beautiful. Thank you so much for giving it to me.”
The warmth and gratitude that radiates from her dazzling grin prove that she truly meant it. I simply smile, say “Of course,” and make my exit. As I approach Ian, he laughs and asks how it went.
“I see that she stopped you. What happened? She didn’t do that for anyone else.”
I explain our interaction, he congratulates me, and we head to West Hollywood for dinner and a long chat.
I felt the need to tell this story because it was a beautiful reminder that despite the fame and international adoration that she experiences on a constant basis, Kehlani is so undeniably human. She’s a mother; she’s an artist; she’s an icon. Clearly worn down from meeting hundreds of people amidst the launch of her brand new clothing line, on top of the immense responsibility and commitment of motherhood, she found time to make an honest-to-god human connection with just another fan like me.
This story also serves as proof that everything is truly cosmic. If I hadn’t chosen to check Kehlani’s post in that exact moment, I would’ve kept watching YouTube videos and completely missed my chance to meet her. If I hadn’t suddenly thought to run inside and grab Kehlani’s vinyl, I wouldn’t have learned that I needed a wristband to attend the event. If I had approached that second sales associate instead of the first, she would’ve rejected me immediately without taking a moment to empathize. It’s serendipitous moments like this that cumulate into the experience of life; it’s something that we can’t take for granted.