How this Macon artist went from being homeless to launching an open mic project

Homeless in California.

That’s how Vinson Muhammad found himself after he was fired from a copywriting position at Amusement Park Inc. He wanted to do more music while the partners wanted him to do more writing.

Though homeless, being fired allowed him to be an independent artist, and in 2016 in Santa Ana, Calif., the Coollab Project was born.

“The Coollab Project means cool collaborations through music. It’s an open mic and jam session,” Muhammad said. “It’s a platform for artists as well as for different creators … and just people in general to come together, through their love of music, to collaborate and create things and make this world a better place.”

In October 2019, Muhammad launched the project in the city he was born and raised in: Macon, Ga.

“I chose to bring it to Macon because everywhere that I travel and everywhere that I go, being from Macon, I was invested. A lot was invested in me,” Muhammad said. “Because of that and the investment that was made in me, my goal is to travel and get as much knowledge as I can and get as many resources as I can to bring back to my community to serve.”

The project’s launch took place at the Douglass Theatre, where Muhammad said he learned how to perform.

“When I first got introduced to the Douglass Theatre, it looked a lot smaller to me, and I didn’t really appreciate what it was just because of the size. I was like, ‘Ah man, this like a mini Grand Opera House. What’s going on?’” he said.

But when he learned about Charles Henry Douglass’ business ventures, especially as a black man in the early to mid 1900s, he said he saw the importance of having the Coollab at the Douglass.

The history of Otis Redding also influenced Muhammad’s decision to launch the Coollab Project at the Douglass Theatre.

“His rise came from him being at these talent competitions at the Douglass Theatre. Every Saturday they would have these talent nights, and this man won like 15 times,” Muhammad said. “Bringing the Coollab Project back to Macon, not only Charles Henry Douglass but the stage where Otis Redding got his start. You have James Brown, Little Richard and different people that performed in Macon.”

He currently teaches studio engineering at the Otis Redding Foundation. He said Otis Redding’s entrepreneurial spirit resonates with him.

“That’s why I love working with the Otis Redding Foundation so much, because he was a visionary that set up for his family a life after him,” he said.

Muhammad has a close relationship to Justin Andrews, grandson of Otis Redding and the foundation’s director of special projects and outreach.

“I knew him when he was younger. He went to a different private school than me, but I knew him. My family also knew him and his family,” Andrews said. “When we started doing everything here at the foundation, he was one of the first ones we reached out to, and he’s been with us ever since.”

Muhammad now works as a coach for the Otis Music Camp.

“He coaches the world famous rap room, as we call it. He’s been helping us out for about five or six years in the rap room, and the kids enjoy him. They respect him, and they learn a lot from him,” Andrews said. “He’s always positive. When things seem to go wrong, he’s always that positive force you need to make it seem like it’s all going to go right in the long run.”

Muhammad has been able to bring his two years of experience in California back to Macon.

“Literally every day I would be in the studio, even though I was a writer. I would do my writing and make sure I got that done, but I was always in the studio because I wanted that to be my anchor platform,” he said. “So when I came back to Macon, that was something that I could use to serve.”

He also oversees the studio at Rosa Jackson Community Center.

“My whole goal is just to create opportunities for youth to be able to learn on a high level and connect them with the resources that they need to take it to the next level,” he said.

He said supporting the community is a big part of the Coollab Project.

“Here in Macon, we want to make sure we support the Douglass Theatre. Becoming members of the Douglass Theatre. Support Homeland Village and whatever the venue is that we end up having, make sure we patronize that venue, but also make sure we patronize all of the local businesses in the area so the community can flourish,” Muhammad said. “That’s the Coollab.”