There’s Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter, cofounder of the Roots, giving a tour of Philadelphia’s Magic Garden to style commentator Tai Beauchamp — the glittering folk art and garden sculpture is representative of Philly, Trotter says, “in that the city is a mosaic.”
Other videos — colorful and pulsing with jazzy music — feature New York Times best-selling author and blogger Luvvie Ajayi; Vanessa Simmons, actor and niece of Def Jam Records cofounder Russell Simmons; and Dustin Ross, actor and co-host of the podcast The Friend Zone.
They are what marketing gurus delight in these days — trendsetters and social-media influencers — trying to lure to Philadelphia more African Americans, a sought-after tourist demographic that’s fallen over the last five years to places like New York, Baltimore, Washington, and Atlanta.
“We realized the African American travel segment has an outdated view of Philadelphia, so we needed a campaign to shift the perception,” said Jenea Robinson, senior media relations manager at Visit Philadelphia, which launched the campaign in mid-September.
In five episodes of a video series dubbed “We Got You: Philly by Tarik,” either Trotter or Rakia Reynolds, founder and CEO of Skai Blue Media, takes a turn sharing glimpses of the city by exploring its culture, food, history, shopping, and parks that will appear on sites such as Essence, Madame Noire, and YouTube. Accompanying print ads, part of the “With Love Philadelphia XOXO” campaign, feature messages: “Every Moment is Monumental” (showing the Joe Frazier statue); “Culture and Couture? We got you,” and “We’ve got Murals for Miles.”
Research by Ipsos, a global market research firm, showed that Philadelphia has a lot of what African American tourists are looking for in an urban, leisure destination: fun and affordable experiences; local and independently owned stores; walkability; and vibrant restaurants.
But the agency discovered fewer are coming here than five years ago. Robinson couldn’t pinpoint why, but said the competition is tough for African American travelers who earn about $75,000 a year.
Cue Philly native Trotter as the lead ambassador to trumpet the city’s charms.
“We wanted a Philadelphia celebrity who had a reach far beyond Philly but who was a great advocate for the city,” said Robinson, citing his Roots and Tonight Show fans. Trotter also has been involved with Mural Arts Philadelphia and comes here weekly to visit one of his two regular barbershops.
Trotter, who now lives in a northern New Jersey suburb but grew up around South Philly and still has family around Fifth and Washington, took a few minutes to talk about the marketing campaign and his relationship with Philadelphia, which he says still inspires his creative process.
Why did you want to be part of this tourism campaign for Visit Philadelphia? What is it about Philly that you appreciate?
Philly is home, and I was happy to be part of a project that showcases the beauty and vibrancy of my city from an African American perspective. I appreciate how authentic people in Philly have always been. You will find some of the most passionate, talented people here.
I read that you come to Philly four times a week to go to your gym and to get your hair cut at one of two barbershops?
I don’t think I’ll ever have what it takes to use a non-Philly barber. It’s a lot of miles on the Turnpike, but it’s well worth it. My two go-to barbers are Darien Hilliard of Made Barber Parlor in Sherman Mills and Faheem Alexander of Hands of Precision in South Philly.
In the video where you’re showing Vanessa Simmons around Spruce Street Harbor Park, there are scenes where you are greeting a couple of people. The connection seems real.
The guy in the flannel was actually a good friend of mine who used to do music with me. I hadn’t seen him in ages, so yes, the interaction was very candid and genuine.
What do you like to do when you come back to Philadelphia? Do you have a favorite historical landmark?
Whenever I come to Philly, I always try to find the latest, dope restaurants to add on my list of Philly favorites. I also like to find a studio and meet the new up-and-coming musicians. I love to pick their brains and offer advice whenever possible. My favorite historical landmark is Fifth and South Street, right off the corner of Passyunk Ave. It’s where the Roots first started.
What was it like being at CAPA with so many future artists we know today?
Man, attending CAPA at that time was an amazing experience. We obviously didn’t know our classmates would reach the level of success that they have, but being around Boyz II Men, Christian McBride, Amel Larrieux, you knew that you were among some very rare talents. It allowed me to dedicate myself to my craft and put in my 10,000 hours.
While filming the series, did you learn anything new about your hometown?
I knew about Mother Bethel AME, but I wasn’t aware that it was located in a historic African American neighborhood. Now, people call it Society Hill, but we aren’t taught that this now-wealthy neighborhood was a mixed-class, African American neighborhood.
You’re helping to promote the city to African-American tourists, but the city has had a history of racial problems. Would you care to weigh in on racial tensions here?
Like with any other city, we have our problems, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that we are a city rich with black art and culture — and that’s not a new thing. Our contributions to music, film, visual arts, and dance are deeply rooted into the fabric of Philadelphia. I did see that the city just unveiled a memorial to the great Octavius Catto. Now, that’s a monument worth visiting.