Philadelphia native Brice Johnston is a castaway on the new season of “Survivor: Cagayan,” which premiered Wednesday on CBS.
Along with Johnston, 18 castaways have entered a competition of athleticism, intellect and good looks. Contestants are divided into three teams — Brawn, Brains, and Beauty. Johnston is on team “Beauty.”
“Brice the beauty is clearly easy on the eyes,” Johnston joked. “I’m clearly the most stylish survivor. I definitely have a mouth piece on me, so at times my Phillyness tends to come out.”
Captivated by the drama, physical challenges and dynamic cast members, Johnston , a 27-year-old social worker, said he has always been a fan of the reality show. Cirie Fields, 2006 “Survivor: Panama” castaway, was Johnston’s favorite contestant because he said Fields reminded him of his aunt.
“If Cirie can do it, I can do it,” Johnston said, adding, “I can bring a little more than Cirie to ‘Survivor.’”
His experiences growing up as an African-American male in Philadelphia has prepared Johnston for “Survivor.”
“My personal struggle — being an openly gay Black man in Philadelphia — has definitely prepared me for ‘Survivor’ because I’ve had to deal with being picked on, getting teased and people wanting to fight me,” he said. “I’ve had to deal with people spitting in my face. I’ve dealt with all that in the past, so, to come on ‘Survivor,’ please, this will be a piece of cake. I’m going to be the villain of the show.”
Running five miles, three or four times a week, hiring a personal trainer and eating a balanced diet prepared him to be in great shape for the show.
“I wanted to make sure I didn’t have a stomach going on ‘Survivor’ because I know they bring the jocks and the pretty blonde girls. Most of the times the gay character on ‘Survivor’ is the frumpy dumpy one. That was my goal not to be the frumpy dumpy gay guy.”
Johnston said he even trained with his nephew at the playground by doing cartwheels and other ‘Survivor’-like activities, such as blindfolding his nephew and giving him directions to walk through the jungle gym.
“What I took away from ‘Survivor’ was that I already knew what I knew about myself before going onto ‘Survivor,’” Johnston said. “I just felt like ‘Survivor’ confirmed that I’m outgoing, I’m well-loved and I can get my point across. I’m very grateful for the opportunity, and I can’t wait for everyone to watch it.”
There is a true science behind every suit that comes out of Murray and Tillman Custom Clothiers. From fabric textures, original pattern-designs and precise hand snitching, two men are continuing the tradition of dressing well and reviving the craft of tailoring.
Ken Murray and Thomas Tillman Jr. are the names behind the customized menswear — including women’s suits, too — that comes from their newly opened storefront, 6379 Germantown Ave.
Friends, family and clients helped the men celebrate their store launching which showcased classic trends and new age style.
“The traffic that comes to and from, you can’t beat that,” Tillman said as he pointed to the storefront window that displayed three tailored pieces. “[It’s] better than a business card. A business card can’t speak like that.”
Murray began crafting in 1975. Inspired by his grandmother and life circumstances, he took tailoring at Germantown High School.
“What initially started me was the lack of money and the lack of clothing,” Murray said.
His business started when his friend, John Palmer, asked him to make a pair of pants. Murray was initially reluctant to fill the request. But the next day, Palmer brought in a pattern, some fabric, thread and a zipper to school and became Murray’s first customer.
After high school, Murray received a tailoring degree from a two-year vocational school in Center City. He gives credit to both his high school and trade school teachers for influencing his skills in tailoring.
For over 20 years, Murray had a store on Wayne Avenue and Queen Lane that also offered custom tailoring. The store stayed open until 2008.
In the late ’90s, Tillman came on the scene. Driven to find mentorship, he came to Murray. And similar to his teen years, Murray was initially reluctant to Tillman’s request.
“I was hungry and thirsty,” Tillman said. “I had to learn, and all arrows pointed to Ken Murray.”
Tillman’s initial beginnings started from observing the creativeness of his great-grandmother — who made his great-grandfather’s clothes — and from his mother’s sewing and crocheted pieces.
In the early ’90s, Tillman designed t-shirts and jeans, but wanted to develop new skills. And the challenge of custom tailoring enticed his interests. Tillman received mentorship from other Philadelphia designers like Dwayne “Prom King” Tate — now deceased — and Gilbert Holder, who taught him pattern-making.
Eventually, Murray and Tillman became friends, and now business partners. Murray brought in his customers of Ken Murray, and Tillman brought in his clients of D’von and Taylor Custom Clothier — named after his son and daughter.
During the late ’90s and early 2000s, Tillman worked with Roger Michael, another Philadelphia designer. And like many visionary designers in the city, his work was created in basements, small apartments and anywhere else there was room for a sewing machine.
“For us who live and breathe this, this is a great accomplishment,” Michael said about the store opening. “There’s so many of us you don’t hear about, but when you get a chance like this — especially for an African-American male — this is awesome.”
Michael does acknowledge the changing fashion culture, but described dressing up a lost aesthetic. He explained that people are not wearing custom tailoring anymore, because work place fashion has become more comfortable and causal.
“I think what Kenny is doing is giving people some original ideas of dressing up again,” said Sheldon Foster, a mentee of Murray. “And we need to dress up again. Everyone’s wearing the same jeans and sneakers.”
And with the shift of fashions, and the decline of shops even offering custom tailoring, is this the best time for this type of business?
Murray and Tillman agreed the appreciation for the art is fading, but believe their reputation and progressive ideas will keep them in this industry.
“Tailors are becoming extinct in Philadelphia,” Murray said. “One time, people got clothes made all the time. There are still people who rely on tailors, and what we have to offer and the name we’ve established, I think we’ll do well.”
Looking ahead, the partners plan to offer custom tailoring classes at the store. Murray will teach hand sewing techniques, and Tillman will teach pattern-drafting.
“That’s rare in Philadelphia,” Tillman said. “You’re not going to be able to go into a tailoring shop and actually get taught or mentored on how to draft and how to make a garment.”
“What I had in mind to make an individual a little more marketable was to teach them a course in custom alterations,” Murray explained. “That way they can learn something within a few months and be able to make some money at it.”
Still as they are embrace classic tailored looks, the men are aware of current fashion trends. For Murray, he looks at the garments clients bring in, television and magazines. On the other hand, Tillman watches The Classic Movie channel, and crafts his designs with the infusion of old charm.
“Staying current, I don’t have to really worry about because if I make you a suit, it’s going to last from today, and probably 20 or 30 years from now,” Tillman said. “Tailoring never changes.”
Adding leather to clothing, lining the inside of pants with Hawaiian-prints, using hand top fancy stitching, and blending styles from the ’20s and ’30s, the men put a twist on custom tailoring. And those needing a basic hem or zipper replaced on a jacket can get it done at the shop.
Murray and Tillman’s professionalism and eye for design keep customers like Shawn Hall coming back for new suits. For about a year, Hall has been a client. His first purchase were custom pants, and now he came to the opening event to pick up a suit jacket Tillman made for him.
“The quality of the material is second to none,” Hall said. “So as a result, I get a lot of compliments and that’s what keeps me coming back.”
More than 500 girls from Connecticut to Washington, D.C., met for the two-day Fourth Annual Uniquely You Summit to declare why they are special. Young girls ranging from 11- to 18-years-old, gathered at Temple University’s Performing Arts Center Sept. 14 and 15, to celebrate their distinctive charm, intelligence and courageous spirits.
This year’s theme, “I AM,” took these young women on a journey of learning daily affirmations, creating goals for the future, and understanding the perceptions of African-American women in the media.
Shaleah Lache Sutton, founder and president of Uniquely You Summit, Inc., said it is critical to continue to have these conversations with young Black girls because others won’t. For Sutton, interacting with positive Black men and women at the summit gives Black girls a balanced reflection to what they experience on television.
“If you take a white girl for instance, she may watch the ‘New Jersey House Wives,’ but she’s got some balance on TV, as well when it comes to something like the ‘Rachel Zoe Project,’” Sutton told the Tribune. “For us there isn’t a balance on television, so if we can’t balance it on television, we have to balance it somewhere else.”
Through panel discussions, musical performances, video presentations and networking with mentors and peers, the young ladies identified what it takes to mature into confident, wise and optimistic women.
Mara Brock Akil, executive producer of “Girlfriends,” “The Game” and “Being Mary Jane,” was the keynote speaker. Other panelists and participants included, Dr. Yaba Blay, Amanda Seales Christina Coleman, Basheer Jones, Tai Beauchamp, Zerandrian “Z” Morris, The 88’s Band, Dee C. Marshall, Melanie R. Hill, Calida Garcia-Rawles, Nina “Lyrispect” Ball, Stephanie Brown, Jessica Reedy, Youssef Kromah “Seff Al-Afriqi”, “Just Greg” Corbin and Nehemiah Davis.
Jones — who led, “The State of Black Girls”, an all-male panel — engaged the girls in various candid conservations about the maturity of young boys, the exploitation of Black women in the media and positive ways to live without compromising values of respect.
“I don’t think there’s anything more important in this country right now than this task of trying to empower the next generation of mothers and women leadership,” Jones said.
He also explained that in his second year of coming to the summit, the amount of pain that exists within the girls was scary to learn when talking with them.
“These type of conferences are uplifting to the spirit to know that there is a group of women who said, ‘No longer will I sit by and allow our nation, our world, to trample on the hearts, souls and innocence of our baby girls and future mothers,’” Jones said.
UYS 2013 Cover Girls — ambassadors for the organization, Gabrielle Ramseur, Khanya Brann and Leah Boyd shared laughs when talking about their experiences from the mentorship of Sutton, panel discussions, to building relationships with other young women.
Brann, whose roots begin in Trinidad, has lived in London and Quebec, Canada. At 16, she is fluent in French and English, and acknowledged how race is a continued tool of oppression.
“For me, I learned a lot about colorism and the history of colorism, where it started and why it’s still prevalent for today, and I’m going to take with me that all shades of Black are beautiful,” Brann said.
Ramseur, 17, is a pianist and vocalist. Previously, she performed at the UYS in 2012. This year she performed several songs and enjoyed talking with her peers.
“I’ve realized this from last year’s summit that everyone has a story,” Ramseur said. “No matter if it’s big or small, it’s made you view things different, it’s made me view things differently. From hearing girls’ stories and realizing similarities I may have with them, it shows me that I’m not the only one. I’m not alone.”
“What I take away from this is going out and telling girls [that promiscuous behaviors] are not your calling is in life,” Boyd said. “I feel like being here at the Uniquely You Summit, having girls being able to listen to people who know or who have experienced things that we are experiencing, is the biggest thing that I can take away.”
Sheryl Lee Ralph and Senator Vincent Hughes also came to support Sutton. Ralph spoke at the first UYS, and Hughes awarded Sutton as a 2011 Outstanding Young Leader.
“We’ve always been impressed and proud of the whole idea Shaleah had of mentoring, of empowering, of letting young women know that they had a voice, and helping them shape that use of that voice,” Ralph said.”
“Her unique commitment which is driven to send out daily messages, constant words of inspiration, you got to be supportive,” Hughes said.
Next year, Sutton plans to take the summit to Atlanta. As a Spelman graduate, she said Atlanta is a second home.
“We’re not leaving Philly, but we are actually going to try to do the same work we’ve been doing in this city in Atlanta,” Sutton said.
Among the tree-lined woods, long dirt roads and between vast, green mountain peaks lies a series of stone walls, a farmhouse and thousands of artifacts that signify over two centuries of history. In many ways, the ovegrown foliage on the 153-acre property has preserved parts of The Dennis Farm. And through the advocacy of a seventh-generation descendant, the legacy of the African-American family who were the original and continuous owners of the land, remains to be a teaching moment of American history.
President and CEO of the Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust (DFCLT), M. Denise Dennis, spent the last 12 years protecting her family’s farm in Brooklyn Township. Since 2001, Denise and her great-aunt, Hope Dennis — now deceased — began the Trust to keep this ancestral and historical resource as an educational and cultural site.
On Sept. 12, the Dennis Farm hosted a symposium and outdoor field tour for researchers, students, public service leaders and tourists that presented the archeological and anthropological work that was done on the farm. The tours also included visits to The Center for Anti-Slavery Studies and The First Presbyterian Church — two significant stops of the Underground Railroad in Montrose, Pennsylvania.
Cecilia Rusnak, Pennsylvania State University associate professor, took a group of undergraduate and graduate landscape architecture students to the property as part of an agriculture and heritage seminar.
“I thought it would be a great experience for the students to learn a history that they probably otherwise wouldn’t learn about and to see what happens at the beginning of a project, where you have to figure out what is the story,” Rusnak said.
Through Denise’s research, the Perkins-Dennis family story begins in 1792 when Prince Perkins — Denise’s great-great-great- great grand-father was awarded 25 pounds and six shillings for his service in the American Revolutionary War. The next year, Prince moved to the Endless Mountain Region by way of Connecticut and purchased a lot of land. During this time, the area was apart of the Connecticut territory. Susquehanna County was later established in 1810. Prince, his wife Judith and their children cultivated the land all while they held their status as free African Americans. Other notable family members were veterans of the Civil War, and socially and politically active.
At the Perkins-Dennis Cemetery, family members including two Revolutionary War veterans, one Civil War veteran and forty other African Americans are resting at the burial ground.
Denise told the Tribune that when she shared her lineage with a professor at Swarthmore College, he asked her if she understood her family’s significance to history. She said having this knowledge of her ancestors makes her “feel at ease” with herself.
In 2008 and 2009, two archaeological field studies were done at the property. Headed by John R. Roby — now an assistant professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania — was completing his doctoral research at the State University of New York State at Binghamton. His team of 18 students found approximately 10,000 artifacts and data that suggested the family lived a self-sustainable lifestyle by the several techniques of food preservation, such as canning jars, were discovered. Other research indicates the growth of wheat, barley, corn, maple syrup, maple sugar and life stock were done on the farm.
At the original Perkins house foundation, Roby described the house — which no longer sits there — as being a 22 x 26 foot, one and a half story, natural field stone house. It had one entrance door, no windows and up to 11 people living there.
“It would have been crowded, but that was very typical for the early part of the 19th century,” Roby said. “People lived closer together.”
Although the property has not been a working farm since the early 20th century, Denise found documents that indicated the family was musically talented and valued education because of chalk and pencils found in the farmhouse.
In 1820, the Dennis Farmhouse was constructed, and in 1939, it was renovated and used as the family’s summer home until the 1950s.
Darryl Gore, brother of Denise, son of Margaret Dennis Gore Crumley and nephew of Edith Dennis Moore Stephens were all at the symposium talking with visitors. Darryl spent about four to five summer nights at the farmhouse. He recalled his last time was when he was 7-or 8-years-old. At the time, his family lived in Wilkes-Barre. His grandfather was given the responsibility to keep up the property when Hope stopped. At times, the land was leased to local farmers for their cows.
“My memories are that he would go up to the spring and turn the water on, but you have to image that all those trees that you see here were gone,” Darryl told the Tribune. “This was all open pasture land.
“I just remember my grandfather had a beautiful baritone voice and he’d come out and say, ‘Come boys,’ and you could hear it resonate off the land and the cows would come down. But, by that time, the house was pretty much deserted. There was still furniture here because I remember that there was a pool table, big chairs and a screened-in porch.”
Today, the property is maintained by Denise, Dennis Farm caretaker — John Arnone, Wade P. Catts, associate director of cultural resources at John Milner Associates and DFCLT board member. Dennis Farm has several collaborate partnerships with Endless Mountains Heritage Region Inc., Preservation Pennsylvania, Brooklyn (Pennsylvania) Historical Society, Susquehanna County Historical Society, Marcellus Shale Coalition and Cabot Oil and Gas Corp.
“When you see [the farm], most people think it’s flat or you can stick a tractor on it, but no,” George E. Stark, director of external affairs for Cabot, said. “It was definitely difficult 200 years ago.”
During the guided field tours, Cabot employees volunteered to drive golf charts for the visitors to travel to the various sites on the farm.
The relationship between Cabot and the Dennis Farm began about two years ago, when the company had interest in the land’s natural resources. In 2006, the company began drilling for natural gas within the Marcellus Shale of Susquehanna County. The company has leased 200,000 acres in the county.
Initially, when Cabot came across the 153 acres of the Dennis Farm, they were not aware of its history. Denise was offered $800,000 for the right to drill on the land. Contact was made to representatives of the farm, and Cabot then learned about its significance. Still, Denise did question if the drilling would interrupt the preservation efforts to the land. Later, both parties sat down to discuss how the two could move forward.
“Actually, we can do our operations and it will have no impacts on your land,” Stark said as he recalled the meeting with Denise. “Quite honestly, it can have positive financial impact because of the 153-acres. There’s a lot of wealth to be created from leasing the land and her land returning royalties to her.”
However, drilling has not begun on the farm. Stark suggests that within the next two years drilling will commence to adjacent land. By drilling down vertically 7,000 feet and turning to drill 5,000 feet would allow Cabot access to the natural gas without being on top of the farm.
“While we will come across remarkable locations, never has Cabot come across a unique parcel of land like the Dennis Farm,” Stark said. “We’ve never had this opportunity to see this richness of a cultural asset, a heritage and a legacy, and that’s why we’re a proud partner to have the farm preserved for the next 220 years and beyond.”
Monies acquired will help with restoring efforts on the property and go to the Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust.
The Dennis Farm collection of books, handwritten documents and artifacts will soon be donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture opening in Washington, D.C. in 2015.
For years, Hunting Park has been viewed as a dump, with a dark past of drugs, crime and filth.
Still, for nearly 20 years, young men and women have seen the 87 acre landscape as the foundation of their childhood as members of the North Philadelphia Aztecs.
What began as a small football and cheerleading organization for children of North Philadelphia, the Aztecs were crowned the 2004 Pop Warner championship-winning team and were the recipients of a newly renovated home field.
In a dedication ceremony held on Monday morning, Philadelphia Eagle, Michael Vick, cut the ribbon to the Team Vick Field - the Aztec’s new home. The event was presented with fanfare, remarks made by elected officials and city representatives.
“This is our future right here,” Vick told the crowd at the ceremony. “Embrace this. The coaches who will be coaching these young kids, embrace this. This belongs to you.”
Vick, no stranger to the Aztecs, shot a Humane Society commercial in 2011 in Hunting Park and autographed two jerseys that were used for a silent auction fundraiser for the Aztecs.
Launched in September 2012, Team Vick Foundation’s first major gift was a pledge of $200,000 to the restoring of the Aztec’s field. To complete Phase II of the Hunting Park Revitalization Project, with a price tag of four million dollars, the foundation worked collectively with the Fairmount Park Conservancy, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and other organizations to
“This park is night and day from where is was five years ago,” said Kathryn Ott Lovell, executive director of Fairmount Park Conservancy. “What impact can a park have in catalyzing positive change in the community? I think we’re proving that here in Hunting Park.”
The Hunting Park Revitalization Project planning process began in January 2009. To date, the improvements that have been made to the grounds include an on-going farmer’s market, two playgrounds, baseball field (supported by Philadelphia Phillie Ryan Howard), tennis courts, community garden and lighting.
Other improvements still pending are landscape improvements, a multi-use recreational field and reopening of the concession building.
According to Lovell, approximately $300,000 is still needed to be raised for the interior and exterior of the Hunting Park recreation building along with the concession building that will provide a health food options.
After planning, petitioning and prayer, the Aztecs will play this fall season on a new turf field. The first game of the season is scheduled for September 7.
President and co-founder of the Aztecs, Wayne Allen, known as Coach Wiz, said he was in a daze on the day of the ceremony dedication. The day was perfect for him.
“We didn’t care what the [field’s] name was,” Allen said. “As long as we got the field, we’re happy.”
Allen, Steve Irving, Mitchell Brown, Quentin Baldwin, Leroy Fisher and Aaron Cottman started this program in 1993. The men, who were in their 20s at the time, were just trying something new for children.
“At 21, we barely knew what we were going to do with our own personal lives,” Allen said. “So we were not expecting all of this.”
Back then, the field conditions did not bother the coaches. Players and coaches didn’t complain. Instead, of dwelling of the plight, the team built character. Much of the Aztec success is accredited to the founding coaches who took their passion to bring a healthy, alternative lifestyle change to young men and women. This is the focus now and has been since the organizations inception.
For two decades, Allen has coached approximately 5,000 children between the ages of five and 15. As members of the Aztec organization, children have found an extra-curricular activity, but the coaches also help them secure spots on top high school football teams, too.
Notable Aztec alumni include Penn State University defensive end, Deion Barnes and Kutztown University cornerback, English Peay.
Other alumni and current Aztec players took to the field running, threw passes, kicked the ball through the white field goals and shared laughs with Allen and the other coaches after the ceremony.
As a mother of four children who went through the Aztec program and now the head cheerleading coach, Danielle Dumas said she is thankful for the people getting involved.
Dumas’ sons DeShawn and Rodney played football, daughter Latoya aged out of the program and now daughter Alyssa cheers. Dumas also said she is looking forward to another winning season.
With accolades and the reputation that the Aztecs have received, the team has attracted players not only in North Philadelphia communities, but neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.
This season, enrollment has increased. Two decades ago, the organization began with a total of 100 athletes. Now, the roster yields over 400 young men and women for football and cheerleading this season.
“Being here as long as I’ve been, and working towards getting our own field, it’s like giving birth to a baby,” Dumas said. “It’s a proud moment.”