On Saturday, thousands of Philadelphians gathered at the Pennsylvania Convention Center for Radio One's fourth annual Be Expo. Hosted by local radio stations 100.3 WRNB, Praise 107.9, and Boom 103.9, the event featured appearances from Remy Ma, Doug E. Fresh, Al B. Sure, Kindred the Family Soul, and a surprise visit from former 76er Allen Iverson.
Empowerment and entrepreneurship served as the central theme of the event, with panel discussions focused on topics such as breaking into the music industry and personal growth, which included such industry experts as commentator and Inquirer and Daily News columnist Solomon Jones and veteran actress Erika Alexander (Living Single).
"Part of what makes this event so special is all the communities that come together in a peaceful manner," said radio host and celebrity strategist Dyana Williams. "It's a multi-generational love fest—truly brotherly love and sisterly affection and an opportunity for Radio One Philadelphia to show love to the people who love us, every second of the day."
Iverson graced the audience with an appearance between sets to give thanks to the people of Philadelphia for their continued support. The roaring applause from the crowd indicated that his sentiments were returned.
Dozens of vendors scattered the convention center floor, selling everything from rum cake to kente cloth backpacks. But beyond the ankh-shaped earrings or the photography that lured guests in for a closer view, each vendor had his or her own entrepreneurial story.
"We started [this business] as a response to the need for self-expression, in a cultural sense," Ron Green, founder of What's Up African Apparel Co., said as he removed the last T-shirt that read "Thick Thighs and Good Vibes" from his display mannequin. Green, who started his Southwest Philly e-commerce business in January 2015, said that the mission of his business is rooted in positivity and empowerment. "We want people to feel good about their experience being black. We want to build ourselves up with positive messaging and imagery."
Green said he believes that Philadelphia's long-standing history of community involvement, activism, and philanthropy is a big part of why such events as the Be Expo are important to the fabric of the region.
Hip-hop pioneer Fresh shared similar views about Philly's culture. The "Human Beatbox" attended this year's expo to participate on a panel discussing the history of hip-hop alongside industry experts Grandmaster Caz, Chuck Creekmur, and Roxanne Shante.
Fresh pointed to Philadelphia's honesty and authenticity as the reason he keeps returning to the city.
"I've been coming to Philadelphia since 1985 and ever since it's been nothing but love and respect. The people of Philadelphia are genuine about their culture. They're genuine about hip-hop and that, in itself, makes me very happy and honored to come to Philly," the veteran rapper said.
He also asserted that Philly is a great place to discover new talent. "I think that some of the most creative artists have come out of Philadelphia," he said. "The DJs have changed and transformed things. They continue the progression of hip-hop."
Hip-hop idols weren't the only ones who travel to get their Philly-fill. Seaira Romain, owner of Elegant Elephant in Columbia, S.C., came to the Be Expo to take part in the Philly experience. Elegant Elephant is a boutique that provides access to traditional women's African attire and accessories.
Romain creates several of the items she sells by hand, with the help of her mother. Other items are shipped to the U.S. from a manufacturing factory she owns in Ghana, where she sponsors three local families.
Romaine attributed her own experiences as a black woman to the mission of her business. "I'm Haitian-Jamaican and I [also] have lots of family from Africa, [particularly] Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, so [the aesthetic] has been apart of me since childhood."