Philadelphia Hip-hop artist ARSIN says the best way to “Share Philly” is to share power.
Looking around his West Philly community—seeing playgrounds demolished to make room for luxury town homes, and watching as the unemployment and violent murders rates rises—a nineteen year-old dogooder held his first community event, aiming to both recreate the look and feel of memorable childhood block parties, and bring warmth to an otherwise “cold block.”
Now twenty-four, ARSIN, a renowned hip-hop artist who successfully released Earth’s Core 2 Mixtape in January of this year, is touting a blazing hot startup that promotes informed, empowered, and collaborative communities.
Officially receiving his 501c3 status last month, establishing his innovation as a legitimate nonprofit—before then Drexel University served as his fiscal sponsor—ARSIN, known legally as Vinte Clemons, says the voice of hip-hop can only reach so far, without taking “tangible measures to impact people’s lives.”
“I saw a lot of needs that music alone couldn’t address,” admits Clemons, a University City High School alumnus who went on to obtain a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University.
Talking with my former classmate about the problems in his community and what his organization, DB4 (Da Bottom 4 Community Organization), has begun to do to solve them, he reveals that in response to the high unemployment rate they’ve held several job fairs – which included resume building workshops and job training classes – and have formed The Mantua Alliance, a cluster of nonprofit and profit C-suite executives, to address the lack of collaboration.
“I’m an advocate of having people do for themselves. My goal is for the community to sustain itself through knowledge transfer, institution building and shared purpose. A divided community is an opportunity for outside interests to come in and plan for them,” he says.
Another way the millennial emcee is bringing unity to the community is through his music.
“Hip-hop started in the community and still is in the community,” he asserts. “We are using it to bring peace to warring neighborhoods. Where I’m from is called ‘Da Bottom,’ so we did a video called ‘From Da Bottom’, it was a remix to Drake’s hit song. We had eight different artists, from eight different sections of ‘Da Bottom,’ come together and tell their stories through rap. This was a huge step for street leaders to come into the studio and work on something together, putting territorial beefs aside.”
Clemons is proud to say that since “igniting good” in his community, tensions are ceasing, and people are really starting to live together as one. Although it wasn’t easy to obtain, Clemon’s organization now has a partnership with the West Philadelphia Community Center (Caring People Alliance), where they provide programming to neighborhood youth.
“The large majority of the recreational centers we use for our program(s) have been extremely open and cooperative with us. Others, for reasoning based on prior bad experiences, such as fights breaking out, have been a bit more hesitant. However, we’ve been able to overcome a lot of those challenges by proving that we’re a responsible organization, and that we have a solid execution plan.”
A few months ago, in front of 400 youth at the James Wright Recreational Center, in the Mantua section of Philadelphia, DB4 piloted My Life Kreationz (MLK), a performing arts and life skills program. Clemons is happy to announce that they’ve seen more than 250 young people continuously engage the program. During our phone conversation, he also notes that they have an initiative called Mantua in Action, which provides unique sports programming, such as fencing, squash and long-distance running.
The trail-blazing social entrepreneur tells me his organization, and affiliated partners, are currently working to produce a documentary that highlights how they we’re able to bring diverse residents together around a shared purpose. Clemons hope his lucky streak continues as he hopes to partner with recreational centers and school buildings across the city to share the stories of his community, and to inspire others with a model that will enable them to “do good”.
“If one community can do it, so can others,” states Clemons firmly.
As a teenager, Clemons says he thought adults were going to fix the problems they created. Now knowing that’s not the case, he says he’s motivated by the fact that he has to step up and be the change agent.
“I’m inspired by the problems,” he exclaims.
Clemons, a lifelong resident of Da Bottom, says all communities—or at least their respected leaders—should form alliances and coalitions that will allow them to speak as a united voice to their lawmakers. Suggesting a need for more registered community organizations (RCO), he also adds that he would like to see a law that would make it illegal for wealthy developers to void a community of its culture just because they have power and influence.
“It’s our community, our space; we know what will work and what won’t. We need our voices heard and understood,” he states.
Actively enabling his constituency to turn its resources into the power to make change on the recruitment, training and development of leadership, Clemons says the best way to share Philly is to share power.
This article appears as part of the Share Philly series, a large-scale collaborative initiative between Techbook Online Corporation and Mature Cradle, Inc, that collects stories from community leaders who leveraged place for impact, and discusses ways that impact could be scaled through the fluid use of city resources.
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