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I’m from a town where people hold doors for you. Before we had Starbucks or hipster vegan restaurants, we had Wawa and the Court Diner. I’m from a town where people wave when they see you, homeowners fly American flags in their front yards, and lawyers break bread in booths beside school custodians.
The most recently gentrified corner of Media, dubbed "South Media," was once a four-by-four-block radius of blue-collar Black workers, the "help" to wealthy white north Media families and businesses. Developers have bought out homes that housed more than five generations of proud Black suburban families, a community often overlooked by the greater borough.
Trying to go home
I’m a queer, Black, visually disabled, gender-nonconforming musician (say that five times fast). In 2010, I started a nonprofit that helped artists find affordable creative space in Philadelphia. In 2018, I was honored by Governor Tom Wolf for being one of Pennsylvania’s top 40 Black millennials doing great things in our state. I’ve released an album with Grammy Award-winning producer Vidal Davis.
After more than 14 years living and working in Philadelphia, I bought the house where I grew up and set out to cultivate my career both back home and in the city. I was excited about Media’s reputation for supporting the arts, including the Roots Ramble, the State Street Blues Stroll, musicians appearing at events like the Jazz by Night program in local restaurants, and summer’s Dining Under the Stars. However, I found my hometown wasn’t eager to welcome me back.
After reaching out to Media’s few music venues and being dismissed without management even hearing my work, I realized getting hired would not be easy. I began playing open mics and busking. My reception in these informal settings was, for me, unprecedented. I often received standing ovations and earned more than $60 in just 30 minutes of playing. Fans on the street frequently asked why I wasn’t playing at a particular music festival or music-friendly venue. I replied that I would, but nobody would hire me.
Apply next year?
Determined to make my mark, I spent three years reaching out to local venues, restaurants, and the Media Business Authority, which, under the auspices of its America’s Music Festival Series, administers and promotes many local events. I often received no response and was discouraged from playing in the area at all by small businesses. I was told, “Media has their acts picked out for the next year, but apply again in a year or two.”
However, friends of mine in Philadelphia with similar accolades and talent have been booked in Media. Those friends are often white, male, and able-bodied. We can guess reasons for Media’s current less-than-friendly approach to hometown talent, but I will leave them for history to decide. As Media becomes whiter, as gentrification becomes the norm, will diversity become an obstacle in a town where doors are still held open with a nod and a smile? Herstory is still being written.
Image description: Danie "Ocean" Jackson stands smiling in the bright sun in front of a brick wall decorated with drawings and words in chalk, including "love is love." Danie is playing a guitar.
Read a response from the Media Business Authority here.
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