A youth group brings positivity and hope to inner-city kids through dance and music.
The group is also working on a new documentary, which Kaufman hopes will be aired on MTV. “It’s an art, and a technical skill,” he says. “There’s a message behind the videos but also a message in making them.”
“I do my best to teach them technical things, but it’s more exposure than anything else. There’s always a few that will take it further,” says Kaufman.
One of the participants is Saul Miller, 12, who lives nearby.
“I come every day,” he says. Like most of the kids, he was attracted to the DollarBoyz by the parties and dancing.
Kaufman lets Saul shoot the intro for a new documentary.
“Come on Saul, get up to eye level, what I told you,” he instructs.
Shawayne Tavares and Johnnay Bradford, both 15, speak while Saul holds the camera steady.
“They say our voice doesn’t count ... They say if you want something known, you have to spread the word. Well, this is the youth speaking on our view of the violence in Philadelphia,” the girls read out, after a few retakes provoked by uncontrollable giggling.
“It’s basically showing a positive side of Philadelphia youth,” Bradford says about the documentary. “Everyone around us views us as ‘bad.’”
At a later meeting, the video class works on a sketch to show at an upcoming rally against straw purchasing, when a legal buyer acquires a gun and transfers it to a felon or other party barred by law from owning a firearm. The event is sponsored by Heeding God’s Call, the group behind last year’s protests at Colosimo’s, a Spring Garden gun shop that was shut down in September for facilitating straw purchases.
The DollarBoyz sketch moves backward in time, from a funeral to an argument prompting the killing, back to how the gun was bought in a store before being sold to another customer in the street.
They discuss how to shoot the funeral and the logistics of getting enough DollarBoyz to show up wearing black to simulate mourners.
“Where we gonna get a coffin from?” TopDollar asks.
They decide to just have the corpse covered by a sheet.
“Better to get a younger kid to be the victim,” someone else muses. “It’s more tragic that way.”
“What’s the shooting over?” They debate over a girl, a basketball game and money before settling on a simple jostling between two people in the street.
Kaufman explains the logistics of setting up a scene. “When you walk into the room, what’s the first thing you see?” he asks. “What do you see out on the block?”
They decide to create atmosphere by showing little girls jumping rope and people sitting on the step braiding hair in the background.
In the middle of the planning, Saul bursts into the office from the common area where he had been dancing. “Guess what ya’ll, I did a flare!” he yells excitedly. He drops to execute the move, hands on the floor while kicking his legs out behind, and falls to the ground in laughter.
“Saul, you need to stop dancing and start studying,” his friends joke.
Youth of all kinds have found refuge with Top and the DollarBoyz. Rhonda Sanders, 18, moved to Philadelphia last winter from Atlanta to visit her mother. In March, she had a baby, who she calls the newest DollarBaby. She was just hanging around outside the church when the DollarBoyz walked up, chanting their name, and she’s been coming to meetings ever since. “I don’t know nobody,” she says about her recent arrival in the city. “They get me out of the house.”
“I been on board, it’s related to my goal,” Sanders says. “I want to open my own dance studio.”
First, she hopes to attend Temple or Drexel to study business administration and dance.
She was a subject in Kaufman’s documentary, and also participated by interviewing others on their views about teen motherhood.
“It’ll be a milestone when my son turns one,” she says.
Trevor Scott, 17, goes by the name “Tech.” “I’m good with computers, and work in the IT field,” he says.
He will be a senior at Swenson Arts and Technology High School, earning certificates in IT essentials, Cisco networking and other software programs. He plans on attending a four-year college and continuing in the IT field.
Tech is also a musician. “It’s my dream,” he says. “But it doesn’t always happen for everybody,” explaining his dedication to education.
He’s been rapping for five years, but recently decided to explicitly pursue a more positive tone. He shows an old video he made on YouTube, touching on standard hip-hop themes of drugs, violence and women.
“Tech, I thought you said you was being positive,” someone jokes.