The DollarBoyz: Don't Call Them a Flash Mob

A youth group brings positivity and hope to inner-city kids through dance and music.

By Aaron Kase
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 27 | Posted Jun. 22, 2010

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Photo by Brad Gellman

“A couple years ago, catch and wreck was the biggest thing out there,” he says, referring to the practice of one group of kids attacking another, unprovoked. “I would be in the larger group, I would talk them out of initiating it.”

While Top didn’t share the economic plight of most of his friends, he did have one thing in common with them: It was hard focusing on education. He bounced between three high schools—distracted by dancing, promoting and his work with youth. “I get sidetracked real easily,” he says. Top hopes to finish the online courses he’s taking at the Pennsylvania Academy of Leadership Charter School next year.

But unlike many of his peers, lack of progress in school never stopped the streetwise entrepreneur. His father gave him the nickname TopDollar when he was a kid. “He used to play with money when he was little,” says Top’s father, Gabrielle “Troy” Dumas. “He would play store with his little sister.” The elder Dumas says he’s proud of the work his son does with kids. “It’s good what he’s doing now … I guess it’s a gift.”

Top’s entrepreneurial swagger was evident even back in elementary school where he hustled everything from Oriental trading books, cookies and pens out of his locker.

“I’ve always had an independent business mind,” he says.

At 12 years old, Top got his first job at the E3 Power Center on Germantown Avenue, starting as an office aid and quickly moving up to assist with video production.

By the time he was 16, Top moved on to party promotion, saying he got into the business because that’s what attracted kids. “Whatever they [the kids] like doing, I promote it,” he says. He charges about $10 to get in the door at parties that he throws once a month or so, more often during the summer. He says at least 500 kids show up to every event, and claims he could make between $30,000 and $60,0000 a month but instead frequently loses money because he doesn’t strictly enforce the door fee.

“If kids come to me with a dollar or three dollars, I let them in. I’m not necessarily in it for the money,” he says. “It’s just something for kids to do.”

What money he does makes, Top says “goes right back to the kids,” through trips to McDonalds and the movies and rewards for doing well in school. He also pays for assistance promoting parties, to kids like Moises “Moey” Rivera, a 16-year-old DollarBoy from Kensington. Moey helps the group with graphic design, photography and videography for their fliers and website.

“It’s positive, you can make money without selling drugs or nothing,” Moey says.

Always on his grind, Top also works as a program coordinator at the YMCA and has an account with AT&T to resell devices on Ebay. He stresses entrepreneurship to the kids and has set up the DollarBoyz as a corporation with himself as CEO, though their business activities are only just getting off the ground. The group sells T-shirts and hoodies and hopes to start making money through the record label. Additionally, they are sometimes contracted to dance at parties.

Top recently attended the Pennsylvania Association of Public Service Agencies business expo on June 2 to hone his business skills and learn how to win contracts with the city. He says the DollarBoyz can be competitive for things like SEPTA marketing campaigns, given his group’s experience with promotion, flier design and its reach within inner-city neighborhoods. “I see all the possibilities that can come out of this,” he says.

While the DollarBoyz strive to create opportunities, they find that not everyone is receptive to their presence. Young black males traveling in large groups—the Boyz often move in a crew of 20 or more—attract the eye of law enforcement, and the group has felt the effects of increased police scrutiny since the rash of flash mobs a few months back. Top says that a crew of six is enough to attract negative attention.

“We walk to the store … as a big, large group, the cops will show up. They come out of their cars with their batons out, saying ‘Get the F out of here,’” he says.

“I tell the cops, ‘Yo, we a positive youth group,’” says Top, adding that the police generally back off until the next time they try to walk down the street.

The stereotypes extend to the party world, too. Although no one ever came out and said it, parties like those thrown by the DollarBoyz fit the description of the real targets of the promoter bill that passed through City Council this spring.

“Over-promoted” was the phrase Councilman William Greenlee used repeatedly to describe the impetus for the bill, which requires promoters to register with the city and alert the police two weeks in advance if they plan to take over a venue and supply their own security. Officials testified about parties “heavily promoted via posters and electronic media.” Police were concerned about events that attract more people than can fit in a venue, and at times break out into violence.

Top insists that he’s “never had any big fights,” while in the promoter business. Nevertheless, the negativity surrounding black youth has limited the DollarBoyz’s access to party venues. A March 26 event scheduled and heavily promoted—via videos and MySpace—for Temple’s Liacouras Center was canceled at the last minute. “It just got too big,” Top says. While it didn’t help that the South Street riots had occurred the previous Saturday, Top believes that Liacouras General Manager Fran Rodowicz pulled the plug fearing kids would overrun the venue. Rodowicz did not respond to requests for comment.

The Legendary Blue Horizon, another popular African-American venue near Broad and Master, was closed this month by L&I for operating without a license. Another DollarBoyz haunt, a club at Broad and Susquehana, was also shut down. The group is now limited to using Cookman Church and the fire halls in Mantua and Belmar, both in South Jersey.

Despite the negative attention and lack of venues, Top continues to use social media and word of mouth to spread the DollarBoyz name and attract kids.

“They’re just famous,” shrugs Nasha Lester of New Jersey when asked how she heard about the group. She says her mom drives her in twice a week so she can hang out.

“They known around the city because of the YouTube account and videos and the website,” says Tamir Harris, 13. He’s been with the group for three years now, since it was just a handful of people.

When traveling as a group or when at a party, members often chant their name to gain publicity: “Dollar Boyyyyz, Dollar Boyyyyz.”

“They were screaming their name out at a party,” says Darius McLaughlin on how he learned about the group. McLaughlin, 17, also comes in from South Jersey for meetings. “He [TopDollar] does stuff for kids to get us off the street,” he says.

McLaughlin rattles off reasons why the DollarBoyz are so attractive to kids: “Dancing, positivity, sports ... something to do so you aren’t sitting around getting in trouble.”

But dancing seems to reign supreme. “Dancing freezes my mind from everything,” McLaughlin says. “It puts me in a good mood. Makes you feel free.”

Top’s cousin, 16-year-old Damir Scarbrough, has been with the Dollar-Boyz since the beginning. “I feel as though we’re one of the most positive things in the community right now,” says the Parkway High student, who also loves the dancing. “It’s exercise, stress relieving and a good way to express yourself.”

Videographer Jon Kaufman encourages another mode of creative expression among the group, teaching a video class to the kids three days a week. Kaufman came to the DollarBoyz two months ago from the Arts and Spirituality Center at 38th and Chestnut, a nonprofit dedicated to serving vulnerable communities with artistic outreach programs. He helped the DollarBoyz create a documentary about how kids use creative outlets and performance when growing up in a violent society. Impressed with the group, he stuck around to work on other projects.

“There’s a lot of talent in this room,” Kaufman says, adding that he wants to expose as many kids as possible to videography. “I’m trying to show [them] if you stick with it you can make videos on a professional level.”

The Boyz plan on using their video skills to kick off a North Philly News Network this summer through their YNOT nonprofit to make videos on local events for their website and YouTube, and possibly for public-access cable channels as well.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 27 of 27
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1. Bobby said... on Jun 25, 2010 at 10:21AM

“Great Article!!!”

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2. Philly BBoys said... on Jun 25, 2010 at 01:23PM

“Never even heard of the Dollar Boyz, nor have anyone in the bboy community worldwide. Why? They aren't part of it. Repstyles, reppin Philadephia worldwide since '04 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3roaUj97SU”

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3. Shotime said... on Jun 25, 2010 at 06:34PM

“I'm looking forward to reading your cover story. I tried to find the other article you wrote this week about the walk with the retirees, but couldn't find it. I admit I was a little skeptical about it when I saw the article's title, but that was gone once I read the piece you wrote. Wisdom is ageless. It brought back some very funny moments for me, and was glad to see the experience you had was positive. This in sharp contrast to all the negativity in the Wells memorium piece. Especially the remarks about some of the more revered, elderly artists of that generation. I wasn't sure if that's how anyone would want to be remebered.

In any case, well done. We have enough negativity going on around us.”

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4. tiffany holmes said... on Jun 25, 2010 at 07:22PM

“dollar boyz pop n dont forget dollar girls cause they hang around too”

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5. Mike said... on Jun 25, 2010 at 07:36PM

“@ Philly BBoys

clearly you missed the point of the article. its not just about bboying and breaking. its about underserved youth doing all kinds of positive things. maybe you should come to the Dollarboyz and help them with some dancing?”

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6. Philly BBoys said... on Jun 28, 2010 at 11:40AM

“We intend to. But I must say it was a WTF moment when it was reported that "The people behind the flash mob on south st were breakers/bboys/a bboy crew" Of course we said that wasn't true because we would know, but even that it was reported in such a way stains the image of real bboys in Philly who are trying to maintain relationships with public entities or schools that are already strained by hiphop's sometimes unsavory reputation or stereotype. The equivalent would be a rogue squad of unskilled fixed gear kids causing trouble for the bicycle association in philly, or a bunch of newbie skaters that are outside of the philly skate community causing all sorts of trouble for skaters who follow the rules of the city and messing up their reputation with police or otherwise.”

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7. Philly BBoys said... on Jun 28, 2010 at 11:40AM

“We intend to. But I must say it was a WTF moment when it was reported that "The people behind the flash mob on south st were breakers/bboys/a bboy crew" Of course we said that wasn't true because we would know, but even that it was reported in such a way stains the image of real bboys in Philly who are trying to maintain relationships with public entities or schools that are already strained by hiphop's sometimes unsavory reputation or stereotype. The equivalent would be a rogue squad of unskilled fixed gear kids causing trouble for the bicycle association in philly, or a bunch of newbie skaters that are outside of the philly skate community causing all sorts of trouble for skaters who follow the rules of the city and messing up their reputation with police or otherwise.”

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8. Gerri Mitchell said... on Jun 29, 2010 at 01:40PM

“here's the article Klint and I mentioned earlier this morning. Hope you enjoy reading it!- Farrah”

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9. Dollar Girl LIv-staxx said... on Jul 6, 2010 at 12:01AM

“This shows young people as my self that we need to get up and go do what we can for our world!!!!”

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10. bre said... on Jul 13, 2010 at 11:48PM

“this is a qreat article for these younq kids out here! TopDollar, I qive yu props on this 1 man...”

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11. new girl on deck said... on Jul 17, 2010 at 10:22AM

“can yall hit me up on face book i want to be in dollar girls and i want to get it rocken soooooo my email is juarvezpierce@yahoo.com”

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12. Anonymous said... on Sep 20, 2010 at 10:44PM

“i see what top is trying to do and it is very noble of him
so i commend him for his motivation to keep these kids doing things that they love instead of being on the streets acting crazy (which i was also glad that my mom said i couldn't go to south street that night either because i had just got home from a college visit and she wasn't taking me lol)

BUT I've seen them in action working for the summer because i was in the same summer job program as well
and @Philly Bboys - shut up it doesn't matter if you don't know who they are....they dance for fun like look it up on youtube and they are staying out of trouble”

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13. Db flex said... on Feb 22, 2011 at 02:16AM

“Best article i read yet!
I love ma dollarfam”

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14. ramond said... on Mar 9, 2011 at 03:22PM

“wat up can i join dollar boyz”

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15. Anonymous said... on Apr 5, 2011 at 01:10PM

“who aint hear about dollar boys....sitting here wit top dollar cuzin
dolla boy mir daddy. hope on dat.
dey doin big in the philadelphia streets. i see you d squad”

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16. db manman said... on May 3, 2011 at 01:15PM

“DOLLARBOYZ

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17. db zaire said... on Jun 23, 2011 at 07:17PM

“dollarboyz get it popin”

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18. Nahtif said... on Jul 24, 2011 at 12:21PM

“can i join you”

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19. db crombie e said... on Aug 11, 2011 at 12:14AM

“This jawnn DOPE !

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20. jeneen briana robinson said... on Sep 20, 2011 at 08:00AM

“dolla boyz got it popping and they got it rocking keep your head up ant no shit stoping.$

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21. Anonymous said... on Sep 20, 2011 at 08:03AM

“dolla boyz got it popping and they got it rocking keep your head up ant no shit stoping.$

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22. db bangA said... on Apr 29, 2012 at 09:25PM

“DB POP LIK POPCORN.BUT ITS DB TO THE DEATH OF ME

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23. db dy said... on May 31, 2012 at 01:21PM

“we getz it poppin”

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24. Dollarboy Hide said... on Sep 24, 2012 at 12:55PM

“DB Till The DEATH!!! DOLLARBOYZ”

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25. Ariel Gaddis said... on Dec 31, 2012 at 01:33PM

“i love dollarboyz beause DB Woody in it”

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26. IDB_KEEM said... on Jan 5, 2013 at 05:48AM

“BEING A DOLLARBOY IS PREPAIRING US FOR THE REAL WORLD & HATER & THAT EVERYTHING SHOULDNT BE NAGITIVE

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27. eli said... on Mar 9, 2013 at 05:46AM

“I want to join im nice in rapping”

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