All posts by Zenique Gardner

Zenique Gardner is both freelance writer and freedom fighter. You can find her making presentations at high schools and town hall meetings, or posing in a ShotsFired photo, or somewhere shopping an ice-cream aisle. You may also bring your puppy for a playdate with her big dog, Jaxon, at the Columbus Square dog park in South Philly.
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Wall Ball-in’ Out!

Photos by Kim-Thao Nguyen

Last Thursday, some of Philadelphia’s finest creators, movers and shakers congregated at the Vie on North Broad Street for one of the city’s most highly anticipated events: WALL BALL.

In its 9th year, The Mural Arts Program strived to bring an array of entertainment and excitement to its biggest annual fundraising affair. Not to be outdone by last year’s star-studded event honoring State Senator Vincent Hughes and his wife, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph as well as The Legendary Roots Crew, whose mural on South Street will be formally unveiled this upcoming Friday, this year’s swanky soiree put the spotlight on City Council President, Darrell L. Clarke and Philadelphia’s favorite big baller, former 76er, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, whose iconic mural on Ridge Avenue is a favorite in this acclaimed “City of Murals”.

This year, it was obvious that The Mural Arts Programs wanted to wow guests and contributors with fun and fantasy:  from fancy face-painting to scatting stilt-walkers to the elaborate array of light bites, Wall Ball 2013 left little to be desired from its content attendees. Mike Jerrick of FOX 29 News was the evening’s emcee and opened the floor for the live auction by dancing to Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” followed by some impressive sales in the name of charity.

After the last bid and before handing out awards, Mural Arts Program founder, Jane Golden, shared a story about a young Michael Whittington from the organization’s Restorative Justice Program before introducing him to speak briefly on behalf of its participants. With a testimony and an expression of gratitude extended to the guests, Whittington reminded everybody what doing this work is all about.  Jane Golden and the Mural Arts Program also posthumously honored the late local real estate developer, Tony Goldman.

In an effort to engage younger patrons of Mural Arts, the organization also incorporated an Off-The-Wall Ball at the neighboring Alla Spina Restaurant. This abbreviated party was an amazing amalgamation of muralists, artists, and mural-lovers having fun and making a contribution to art and its restorative power.

The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is the nation’s largest mural project and provides programming for over 100 communities, including at-risk teens and adult offenders. For more information about the Mural Arts Program, visit www.muralarts.org or follow on Twitter @MuralArts.

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Tailor Made

Men of Philly, this is the final weekend to get into the suit of your dreams!

Indochino’s Traveling Tailor and virtual menswear phenomenon wraps up their two and a half week run in Philadelphia on Memorial Day.  This six-year-old brand from Vancouver, BC, brings their luxurious online label to life with their Pop-Up Shop tour that aspires to make men fall in love with their offerings, purchase a piece-by-piece suit, and become a loyal customer—looking to the Canada-based operation to provide all of his future menswear needs.

Situated on 1518 Walnut street—near the business district, blocks from the Gayborhood, and alongside some of the city’s best apparel shops—it would be hard for Philadelphia’s stylish men to have missed this moving gem.  And with custom suits starting at $379, free gifts with a suit purchase, and an online profile that captures the entire fit experience, what guy wouldn’t want to get fly before the innovative shop bids Philly farewell?  Even if your budget doesn’t allow a major splurge this weekend, Indochino brand manager, Crystal Walton, encourages both window shoppers and garment grabbers alike to make an appointment with a tailor before they go bye-bye:

“Every guy that has come into the Traveling Tailor in Philadelphia, whether he’s made a purchase or not, has had an online account profile created for him.  Once we’ve taken his measurements, we’ve now uploaded that onto Indochino.com.  For future purchases…he would go to Indochino.com and it’s point and click: he chooses his suit, his fabric, his customizations and feels confident in the fact that we’ve taken his measurements for him.  In doing so, we have now removed the majority of the work for that guy and made it very easy for him to shop with us in the future.”

To further capture the essence of what Indochino offers within the four walls of the Pop-Up Shop on Walnut Street, two.one.five magazine asked one of our readers to take a walk through the Traveling Tailor and share his experience.  Here’s what Cleveland Pickett, UPenn student and former Saks Fifth Avenue menswear associate, had to say about shopping at the Pop-Up Shop for an Indochino dress shirt:

“For a novice gentleman who has never had the chance to treat himself to custom tailored clothing, the Indochino process was both simple and rewarding.  

During my visit, I met with Hassan, one of the executives and tailors for Indochino’s Traveling Tailor Pop-Up Shop. Within ten minutes, Hassan measured me for a perfect fit from the neck all the way to the break in the pants. During this time we talked about my likes and dislikes with off-the-rack suits and what I should expect from the Indochino brand.

 After my measurements, I was able to start creating my shirt from its beginning. The combinations of colors, patterns, and fabrics seem endless—they have the oxfords, the poplins, broadcloths, twills, and end-on-ends–they’re all here. The patterns range from plain, stripes, checks and plaids to other unique patterns. After I’ve made these selections, I must finally choose which collar and cuffs best fit my style.  My options are spreads, button-downs, pinned, and even tuxedo collars; the one, two button, and French cuffs.

 When it’s said and done, I’m pretty confident that I have just created the best shirt that, in about 2-3 weeks, I will have the pleasure of draping across my back. I’m excited that I’ll have the chance to have an ensemble that compares to the same pieces I’ve seen every month in GQ Magazine for a fraction of the price.”

Still curious about the Indochino brand? Take a look for yourself!  Book an appointment at Indochino.com/Philadelphia and receive a free custom dress shirt and gift set with your suit purchase.  Open Saturday, 9am-7pm; Sunday, 11am-7pm; and Memorial Day, 8am-8pm.

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The Lady Deejay We All Love

Jamica El, who decided one day to take on the alias AfroDJiak while listening to a song from Common’s Like Water for Chocolate album, is the home-girl whose house party you want to get an invitation to.  As a Philly360 ambassador; co-founder of the digital publication, Philly Music Magazine; and by representing one-third of the It’s The Life Creative, this deejay is one of the most connected and influential music movers in the city.

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Initially a dancer, AfroDJiak turned to mixing music as a way to create soundtracks for her dance routines. But when she moved to Philly from Maryland in 2003, she fell in love with the party scene and decided to give up making pause tapes and get serious about being a turntablist. She began the process by hanging out in record stores when she eventually found a local deejay to be apprenticed by.  AfroDJiak collaborated with her apprentice until she ultimately bought her own equipment and got started building her brand by throwing parties around the city.

Today, AfroDJiak can be linked to all things Philly—from being called upon to work parties for the Mayor and his wife to curating a tent of events on the grounds of last year’s blowout music festival, Made in America—AfroDJiak has become a familiar name for the elite as well as everyday events in our city.  One of her most profound endeavors has been her projects with It’s the Life Creative, a collaborative effort with party promoter powerhouse, Stacey “Flygirrl” Wilson and local television personality, Laiya St. Clair.  Together, this trio has been responsible for bringing some of the most notable players in music to “Inside the Studio.”  This intimate evening of interviews enables fans to see their artist in a different light and, over the last two years, has hosted such names as Kenny Gamble, Marsha Ambrosius, producers Carvin and Ivan, and soul group, Jazzy Fat Nasties among others.

And as if that isn’t enough to keep this woman about the town busy, AfroDJiak also works alongside local producer, Damedelphia to provide the online publication, Philadelphia Music Magazine.  As the co-founder of the digital mag, AfroDJiak has been able to provide an array of highly visual editorials on the subjects covered for their audience.  While this publication has primarily been about original videos and graphic work on the artists covered, AfroDJiak says their plan this year is to include more written content and diversify their offerings to reach a broader readership.

But even though her resume is long with her accomplishments, AfroDJiak talks about wanting her legacy to be about something deeper than the work she’s done.  This prolific deejay and socialite prides herself on being warm and approachable and building real relationships.  These characteristics also play out in her deejay sets.  Her goal when behind the tables is to provide a setting for folks to dance.  As a former dancer, she has an ear for what will get the crowd moving and she adheres to that in her sets.

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“Being a [former] dancer highly influences my perspective. I’m not gonna play the head nod music all night or, you know, I’m not tryna give you my stream of conscious hip-hop all night or anything like that.  I’m tryna give people the music for finishing your long day at work or preparing for your next long week or forgetting about whatever bills you have laying around, like, I’m trying to create an atmosphere where you can just forget about the bullshit and just enjoy yourself,” AfroDJiak said when speaking about being a dancer turned deejay.

Tonight you can come dance with AfroDJiak as she mixes up the antidote for the bullshit during her set at Silk City’s MIGHTY#Heartbreakers party presented by Heineken Green Room and two.one.five magazine.  True to her girl-next-door persona, this deejay doll does play your requests and will read your card for a good time, so come ready to party.

Can’t make it tonight? You can still follow AfroDJiak and party with her by downloading her latest mixtape, Fock Luve, released last week on Soundcloud.

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The Deejay with an “SS” on Her Chest

Tucked on a tiny street in Germantown is G-Town Radio where, on any given Sunday, Shawanda Spivey morphs into DJ Aura and sits on the hostess side of things to interview local acts and up and coming names for the internet airwaves.  Places and Spaces, Aura’s online radio show for 1.5 years, is one of the major channels through which this talented, underground deejay showcases her varied music tastes as well as her love for the art of mixing a well-balanced groove for her listeners.

Aura has been in the deejay circuit since 2006 when she first took on spinning at local parties after graduating from Temple University. I initially heard a mix from this lady deejay via a link to her “A Taste of Power” mixtape on Soundcloud.  With music from local producer, Suzi Analogue and Philly deejay, Jazzy Jeff and further laced with indie hip-hop tracks heavy with electronic beats and girl-power raunch (like my personal favorite, Likwuid’s Camel Toe), “A Taste of Power” maintains a chill flow that is both nostalgic and worldly, demanding a bounce and head nod from listeners who appreciate a deviation from the radio norm.

A self-proclaimed music snob whose music tastes tend to gravitate towards more soulful house and indie grooves, she admits she can’t always be a “purist” and will occasionally indulge in some “guilty pleasures” and radio ratchetness to please her crowd.  A closet fan of popular hip hop artists Drake, 2 Chainz, and working on Trinidad James, Aura’s ability to incorporate popular urban music in her sets enables her to create what she considers a well-rounded party for her audience.

To keep abreast of what’s hot, Aura says she still listens to the radio, surfs music blogs, frequents clubs and learns from watching other area deejays.  She gives props to the radio jocks, DJ Damage and Diamond Kutz and says that her favorite time to listen to their on-air sets is during holiday weekends when good-time hits from the New-Jack 90’s all the way to the trap-music present are plentiful and the parties are nonstop because of it.  She also tips her hat to fellow lady deejay, AfroDJiak (also featured in this series), who helped her get started by taking her to Armand’s to show her what she needed to build her music biz.

In addition to her mixtapes and radio show, you can also find Aura on the nightclub grind.  Whether it’s pumping up the volume for real hip-hop heads or turning up dancefloors for divas in drag, Aura is ready with a Mac packed with rhythmic crowd-pleasers.  When talking about some of her favorite folks to spin for, she includes her friends in the Gayborhood.  With experience spinning for such parties as STASH at Woody’s, Sexy Beast at The Treehouse, and a variety of shows at TABU, paired with deep respect for the community’s appreciation for good music, Aura jokingly coins herself as the “black Lady Gaga.”

“It’s fun…I mean, music is such a big part of that community. Music, dancing, vogue-ing is, like, such a big part of the culture.  Like when people come out to a party [in the Gayborhood], it’s understood: ‘I’m ready to get down.’ And they know their music, you know—and I like that because I like a challenge,” Aura dishes when talking about how she keeps the party poppin’ at the bars between 11th and 13th Streets.

Want more Aura? Follow her @DJAura360 and def check out Places and Spaces every Sunday from 6pm-8pm at GTownRadio.com. You can also check out  her latest mixtape “Electric Gems” on Aura’s Podcast. Lastly, look out for Aura’s follow-up to the mixtape of femme classics with “A Taste of Power, Part 2″ coming soon.  But this Friday night, join Aura as she celebrates her birthday by spinning the opening set at Silk City‘s monthly MIGHTY# party and spreading the only love you’ll get from this motley crew of Heartbreaker deejays.

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KAsh for a Dose of DOPEness

Its official: DJ K.Ash needs no sleep. This girl is merely four months and a hospital residency away from being both doctor and deejay.  In the meantime, Kathryn Ashley Brandt—shortened to produce the moniker, K.Ash—is booked as the resident deejay for three local parties; can be found spinning for audiences of 800+ in international nightclubs; and regularly travels to Atlantic City, Baltimore and DC to rock dance floors– all while studying to finish medical school at the top of her class by the end of spring.  Oh yes, K.Ash isn’t just a name for this Philly deejay—she’s gettin’ it too.

K.Ash began mixing music over six years ago after moving from Central Pennsylvania to Philadelphia to attend Swarthmore College.  With plans to play with records only until it was time to focus on medical school, K.Ash never really intended to be a big part of the party scene.  It wasn’t until 2009 when she competed against 10 other lady deejays and won first place in the Equality Forum’s Female Deejay Awards that she would garner the attention she needed to keep her in the game.  With proposals from Sisters nightclub, Stimulus, and Pulse to hold residencies and frequent parties, K.Ash was no longer a closet deejay phenomenon—she was out and on top.

Starting with vinyl, turntables (which she still favors and prefers because she enjoys scratching) and other traditional mixing apparatus, K.Ash quickly added onto her collection of equipment to ensure she was keeping up with technology and great levels of production.

“I’m a pretty firm believer that every deejay should know how to use any piece of equipment… if you’re serious about what you can do, there should be no situation where you don’t know how to handle it.  If there’s a piece of equipment that a club doesn’t have, you should be able to accommodate that,” K.Ash shares.

With an affinity for house, techno, pop, and hip-hop, K.Ash is also proficient in fusing all of these genres together to create a brand new mix, producing MASHUP sets for her audience to dance to.  As one of few MASHUP deejays in the city who also has great interest in production, K.Ash uses Serato, Ableton, and The Bridge along with her MAC, turntables, and a mixer when she is in the perfect situation.  The process of merging songs and sampling music to create amazing MASHUP matchups could be long and arduous work, but K.Ash says she enjoys it because it allows her to produce her own sampled tracks, some of which she plans to spin for the Silk City crowd at the MIGHTY#Heartbreakers party this Friday.

Recognized as one of Philly’s Premier lesbian deejays by Phillesbian Magazine and the only woman nominated as a top deejay by Philadelphia Gay News,  K.Ash enjoys being among some of the most sought after deejays in the LGBT community.  However, her ultimate goal is to engage larger, general audiences.  Her recent collaboration with A.D.D. has allowed her to break onto the international scene and showcase her mixing abilities to thousands of partygoers in Tel Aviv, Israel—a city that appreciates American hip-hop and has long been recognized as one of the world’s best gay cities.

However, while she is in this city, this Philly lady deejay is the go-to person for Stimulus and Pulse parties—the biggest and baddest hotspots for hot girls in the LGBT community.  Additionally, K.Ash rocks the house every Thursday night upstairs at Sisters nightclub in Center City.  This week, get an extra dose of K.Ash and watch her administer the remedy laced with dope music and sampled tracks at Silk City as two.one.five magazine and D24K present Mighty#Heartbreakers!

On Twitter? Follow K.Ash

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All Hail the Queen Bee!

(photos by Tim Blackwell)

 

With a sound ear for music and a keen eye for fashion, Saures Benitez, who goes by the name Ultraviolet (UV), is Philly’s deejay diva to both hear and watch.  Taking notes from her mom, who UV says never left the house without lipstick and a pair of pumps, this fashionista turntablist turns it up a notch when gracing the tables to turn up a crowd.  Whether she’s donning a one-of-a-kind sequined frock from her favorite thrift store or showing off her tattoos in a pair of cutoff shorts paired with some fly sneaks, UV is going to give you both an eye and earful as you party!

It’s no wonder why this leading lady deejay has recently opted to scale back her party presence to work on building the Bee Eater brand.  Bee Eater, which was started three years ago and has primarily been known as the digital record label that produced such projects as Ethel Cee’s “Dirty Samples,” is now evolving to be “bigger than music” and aspires to encompass lifestyle, events, and clothing within the brand.  Working on launching something “big” this spring (she refused to dish about what’s ahead), UV promises to showcase something unique for the peeps as soon as the weather breaks.

In the meantime, Ultraviolet has been working as the go-to person in the Philly market for The Redbull Music Academy.  Most recently, UV has helped organize the The Redbull Thre3style event in the city and acts as a liaison between the energy drink brand and the movers and shakers of Philadelphia music. Ultraviolet enjoys this work as it comes easy for the club scene socialite who has formerly worked as a booking and/or promotions person for both Fluid and The Walnut Room.  Stumbling into such positions by initially sharing the deejay platform with guests who she’d invite on her sets, UV was able to consistently draw a crowd to the South Philly and Center City venues with her ability to lock down party dates with some of the city’s turntable heavy hitters.

But while it’s great to know Ultraviolet for her ability to build a brand and curate great events, her first love is the music and making people dance.  Raised in Harlem in the 90’s where hip-hop ruled radio and in a Dominican home where every occasion warrants a celebration, Ultraviolet grew up with the understanding that good music is what gets the party started.  When she talks about how home shaped her love for the sound of music, Ultraviolet attributes her tonal affection to music videos and serious sound systems which enabled her to take in all that the airwaves had to offer.

As a deejay, she still adheres to the code of ethics that shaped her musical interests as a child.  UV says that when she is behind the turntables her job is to keep the party going.  Staying true to her Dominican roots of making every occasion a celebration, Ultraviolet boasts an adaptable, genre-blending collection of dance music which enables her to serve up a mix of everything from top 40, to hip-hop classics, to dancehall favorites to please the crowd for whom she spins.  And that’s why you don’t want to miss this deejay diva when she sets off the Mighty# Heartbreaker party at Silk City on February 22nd.  Make plans to join us on the dancefloor and see what all the buzz is about!

Follow Ultraviolet on Twitter and Facebook

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Gun$ for Girls!

(photos by Tim Blackwell)

 

Loving bad bitches ain’t never been a problem for Regina Garcia Dyhouse aka Gun$ Garcia.  As a matter of fact, her affection for the ladies of music is what has gained notoriety for this popular bad girl of Philly deejays.  Gun$ Garcia, who has only been in the deejay circuit for three years, is the “newest” player amongst our list of Philly’s lady deejays.  However green this may seem, Gun$ is ripe with accomplishments and accolades.   With a chart topping mixtape under her belt (her Bad Bitches Bomb First compilation was #34 on SPIN magazine’s 40 Best Rap Albums of 2011), a forthcoming lady deejay collaboration effort being released for Valentine’s Day 2013, and an ongoing party for which she is a resident deejay, Gun$ Garcia makes wearing a skirt and packing a MAC and a mixer look incredibly easy.

In 2001, Gun$ moved to Philly from Maryland to attend Moore College of Art and got her deejay start several years later at the Barbary’s monthly open deejay night called The Fight Club.  Here, amateur deejays would line up for whiskey and beer pong before gracing the turntables to showcase their new skills in a 20-minute mixing set.  Both intrigued by the process and dismayed by the lack of women involved, Garcia asked her boyfriend, well-known deejay, Dirty South Joe, to show her how to build a 20-minute set to spin at the popular event.  After unloading several rounds of 20-minute sets at these monthly parties, Gun$ Garcia eventually became the most-winning deejay in The Fight Club competition and landed herself a party at the Barbary nightclub.

With a preference for Baltimore/Philly/Jersey club, trap, and new hip-hop music, Gun$ Garcia’s aim is to infuse most of her set with some of the dopest girl tracks to get a party going.  Her allegiance to girl power music and pop hits is what sets her apart from the deejays with whom she parties.  But Gun$ penchant for empowerment is evident in more than just her music tastes—one half of the up and coming lady deejay collective, Yellow Girl Mob, Gun$ has taught both her YGM partner, Marissa Le aka Yolo Ono and the award-winning lady deejay, Suga Shay, whose recent noteworthy performance in the Redbull Thre3Style Qualifier has made Gun$ Garcia a pretty proud bird.  She is quick to give props to some of her fave ladies (one of which includes local lady deejay, Ultraviolet, who is also featured in this series and to whom Gun$ pays homage for wanting to become a deejay) and talk about the camaraderie that is necessary to uphold a strong lady deejay presence in the city.

When asking the ultra-femme music spinster about her plans for the upcoming HGR/Mighty#Heartbreakers party and ways in which she plans to set herself apart from the other lady deejays, Garcia responds with a cool confidence, “I really don’t think any of them are gonna play anything like what I’m gonna play…” Yep, the Gun$ are out.

Follow Gun$ Garcia’s on Twitter and on SoundCloud and look for her all-girl deejay collaboration, Galentine’s Day, out this week.  You can also catch her on Valentine’s Day for Fashion in Action Benefit for ActionAids at Hotel Palomar in Philadelphia or  spinning at the weekly MAD DECENT MONDAY party at Silk City.

Find out how Philly’s Bad Bitches Bomb First at Silk City on Friday, February 22nd when two.one.five magazine presents Heineken Green Room’s Mighty#Heartbreakers with Gun$ Garcia and four other dope lady deejays in Philly.

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Girls on Fire!

(photos by Tim Blackwell)

 

If you think Diamond Kutz and Lady B are as good as it gets when it comes to Philly’s hottest lady deejays, think again!

DJ’s AfroDJiak, Aura, Gun$ Garcia, K.Ash, and Ultraviolet represent this city’s women to be reckoned with when it comes to mixing music and making the crowds move. With skills that enable them to blend everything from ultra-femme crate classics to radio-hit ratchetness, these worldly girls know how to make you dance without the bands.    This month, join two.one.five magazine as we shine a light on these deejay divas and bring them all together for a MIGHTY# party that you don’t want to miss!

 

Ultraviolet: All Hail the Queen Bee

Gun$ Garcia: Gun$ for Girls

K.Ash: For a Dose of DOPEness

Aura is The Deejay with an “SS” on Her Chest

AfroDJiak is The Lady DJ We All Love

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Tavis Smiley and Cornel West: Poverty is Today’s Public Enemy #1

“The Rich and the Rest of Us” co-authors stop in Philly to discuss how poverty threatens our national security

Although I will seldom admit it—I am poor and, on any given day, my net worth could be in the single digits. That is why it was without hesitation that—even with my little bit of money—I ordered Tavis Smiley and Cornel West’s new book, The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto and purchased a ticket to hear them speak when I heard that their book tour had a stop in Philadelphia. Both well-known and admired media figures with their joint radio show, Smiley & West, and close to forty books authored between them respectively, it was no surprise that the event, which was held at the Free Library Central Branch in Center City at the end of April, was sold-out.

I arrived early to meet with the Smiley-West duo to talk about their first book venture, the economic downturn and the plight of American people, and the war on poverty. The handsome pair shuffled in the room about twenty minutes before they were expected on stage: Cornel West in his signature black three-piece suit and Tavis Smiley, less formal, in slacks and a dress shirt with no tie. Both men greeted me with warm hugs and tired smiles and promptly settled into seats at the table to share their perspectives on how the poor is affecting our nation.

I first asked about The Poverty Tour which began last summer and was filmed and ultimately made into a documentary which aired on PBS during Poverty Week last fall. The tour traveled through 18 cities in 11 states and included visits to folks who lived on reservations, in the ghettos and barrios, and on the streets. Smiley and West beamed when talking about the family of ten from D.C. whom they spent the night with and slept on bunk beds (top bunk for West and bottom bunk for Smiley)—they were proud to share moments like these with their fellow Americans.

Who are these fellow Americans? What is the new face of poverty? When West talks about the state of our nation, he wants his audience to understand that it is not about blacks, Hispanics, or Native Americans who are the usual groups in mind when speaking about the poor—but it is about our entire nation. As a growing number of white citizens become part of the unemployed and state assisted population, the louder the voices are against politicians pushing the agendas of large corporations and the wealthy upper-class. When defining the “new face of poverty,” West breaks down into three groups those who are affected most by the growing deficit: 1) the perennial poor—those who have persistently lived below the poverty line and are unaffected by the recession because they see no difference; 2) the near poor—those who live paycheck to paycheck; 3) and the new poor—former middle-class citizens who have lost their jobs and are facing foreclosures.

And how does a radio personality and well-known intellectual, both successful authors and nationally known public figures, relate to what the average citizen faces on a daily basis? Smiley assured me that no one is safeguarded and he, too, has felt the pressure of the economic downturn. With his privately owned publishing company, SmileyBooks, Smiley has worked hard to ensure that he can provide his employees with benefits and long-term employment, despite the fact that it gets harder when people are spending less and sponsors are forced to make cut backs on who will represent their brands (Smiley’s talk show was dropped by Toyota and Nationwide Insurance). West agrees, although on much different terms, stating that he has “decent input, but high output” after splitting a large portion of his income three ways amongst his former wives. West says with a laugh that he is “still trying to chase the 8 ball.” Still they both feel very blessed, they said. Smiley has been taking care of his mother for many years, paying her mortgage and bills. As the eldest of ten, Smiley says there are family members who are successful and others who have not always made the best choices and therefore create financial burdens. These familial ties for both West and Smiley keep them grounded and able to relate and be genuinely concerned about our nation’s poor.

Smiley and West also attributes their commitment to social responsibility to their faith and belief systems. Both raised in the Baptist church, they believe that “poverty is not just a political, social, or justice issue, but it is also the moral and spiritual issue of our time.” Smiley and West speaks highly of the ideas of civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and former president, Lyndon B. Johnson when seeking change from the government. When asked about their tough critiques of President Obama and if they plan to support him in the upcoming elections, Smiley and West unabashedly agreed that they would support President Obama. When West spoke to the audience in the library auditorium, without prompt he made it crystal clear that Obama was their obvious choice, “We love Obama. We respect him. We wanna protect him… but we also wanna correct him.” Like most Americans, Tavis Smiley and Cornell West do not agree with all of the President’s decisions and they are very vocal about it on their radio shows and in television interviews. But they also admit that he is the best of all the candidates to lead this country. “He can do better. He can do much better,” West says of the President during our meeting.

In The Rich and the Rest of Us and when speaking about the book in interviews and on stage, the writers give accolades to former president Lyndon B. Johnson and the strides he made in improving the country’s growing deficit in the 1960’s when he declared a War on Poverty and decreased the amount of folks living in poverty from 24% to 11%. In the book’s last chapter which is titled, “A Poverty Manifesto,” Smiley and West propose twelve ideas that that could propel our country “from poverty to prosperity,” many of which are the same anti-poverty tactics used during President Johnson’s term and his “Great Society” movement.

When I asked West and Smiley to consider the manifesto and give me three of the most important ideas of the list, they struggled to find which was more important than the other, arguing that they were all equally important. After a brief deliberation, they rattled off three that they felt would positively impact the most people and then asked for a bonus one—I agreed. The first is “The Jobs, Jobs and more Jobs Plan” which proposes a plan to develop 21st century jobs for the “blue-collar job gap” that exists in our country due to the lack of manufacturing jobs ; the second puts “Women and Children First!” and suggests a plan that would support single mothers whose plight has long been ignored; the third, “Universal Food Delivery System” promotes regional farms as well as urban farming so that “no one, especially children, go hungry in America”; and finally, the bonus is “Prisons and Mass Incarceration” which calls for a reformed criminal justice system and “a major overhaul of the prison industrial complex.”

Smiley closed the book and handed it back to me when he offered his final idea from the list—our time was up. We were then joined by the newly elected State Representative of Philadelphia, Jordan Harris, and his wife, and were ushered out into the auditorium for the main event. Smiley spoke first and West followed, lighting up the library’s stage as if it was a pulpit on Sunday morning—and just like a Baptist church preacher’s sermon, he made us all believe again.