A rapper who is more than just talk

Rapper Mont Brown on South 55th Street, where he is going to throw another block party to promote education, the arts, and small business on Saturday.
Rapper Mont Brown on South 55th Street, where he is going to throw another block party to promote education, the arts, and small business on Saturday. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 20, 2014

One day - just one - is all Mont Brown says he needs to make an impact on youth-related violence in his neighborhood and, he hopes, yours, too.

On Saturday, Brown, 26, will be throwing his 2d Annual Stop the Violence Kickback Block Party, at 55th Street and Chester Avenue, in Southwest Philadelphia. He conceived the concert as a means to provide a positive and safe alternative for youth in his neighborhood.

Now the lead rapper of the alternative rap/rock band Astronauts Really Fly (ARF), Brown remembers growing up playing basketball, chasing girls, shooting dice, and going for joyrides with his friends.

"We wanted to get into the mischief," said Brown.

He was raised by a grandfather whom he describes as "firm," and a grandmother who "was like a jelly bean - tough on the outside and soft on the inside."

"They wanted me to take the right route in life," said Brown. "They wanted me to do better, so that's what I did."

His mother was in and out of prison for 16 years of his life. His father, Leroy "Lil Bucky" Davis, was known as the "king of Southwest Philadelphia" and was the head of Southwest Philadelphia's Junior Black Mafia. Davis was shot and killed outside of the Mafia's safe house in 1990.

Davis was 22 and Brown was 2 years old.

His father's killing is one of the many unsolved murders Brown can list off the top of his head. His friend Ivan was 19 when he was shot outside his grandmother's house. Another friend, William, was 18 and still in high school when he was shot after leaving the 52 bus and getting into an altercation with a young woman. Brown's uncle died in a shootout.

But Brown put himself on a different path. "You're either going to cry about it or you're going to deal with it," he said.

Brown credits his teachers and principal at John Bartram High School for pushing him to succeed. Now, he has his own program at the school called "Art, Music and Fashion."

"They're cutting everything from the school districts and rec centers," he said. "There's really nothing for these kids to do but stand on the corner and get into trouble."

Though the city offers numerous cultural and athletic programs, Brown says they are not visible enough in his community.

"I felt like no one cared about Southwest and we don't have anything but fresh water ice," said Brown.

Last year, he took matters into his own hands and threw the inaugural block party, attended by an estimated 2,000 people. He rallied all the artists, comedians, and designers he knew to unify for a day of peace in Southwest.

Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder of Mother's in Charge Foundation, believes this can be one of the most effective forms of peer support. "The young people look up to the young adults in the arts and entertainment industry," said Speight, whose 24-year-old son was shot and killed in 2001 after a conflict over parking. "They have that kind of power."

Proceeds from the block-party vendor fees and donations from Brown's friends went to the foundation, which is dedicated to preventing violence, providing education, and intervention for not only young people but also their families, young adults, and communities.

It's a very complex issue," said Speight. "Anger comes from situations that young people tend to find themselves in - an absent parent, domestic abuse, or conflict in the home."

Daeshawn Johnson grew up in Southwest, with dreams of entering the music industry. Now, the 20-year-old rapper goes by Young Savage and will be on stage performing again this year.

"When you grow up in Southwest, you always think older," said Johnson. "You see a little more than an adult is supposed to let you see. You do more than a kid is supposed to do."

"There are a lot of young people doing positive things," said Speight. "They just don't get the attention on the 6 o'clock news."

State Sen. Anthony Williams has taken notice of Brown, naming him one of Southwest Philadelphia's Ambassadors of Peace. Williams is featuring the block party as a part of his Neighbor to Neighborhoods Summer of Peace 2014 initiative.

"I hope that it rallies people together so that they can see the positive in themselves," said Williams. "They don't have to resort to gun violence to solve their differences and celebrate their likenesses."

ARF Band, Spade-O, and Chill Moody are a few of the artists slated to perform.

"I know we're some of these people's favorite rappers," said Johnson. "I hope it motivates them to chase their dreams like us."

With 50 vendors, Brown also aims to provide opportunities for small businesses and possible career opportunities for the youth.

"They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," said Brown. "If I didn't grow up in Southwest, I wouldn't be the man I am today."

Throughout the year, Brown's philanthropic efforts reverberate throughout his community, from annual turkey dinners, coat drives, ice-skating events, and a book drive for Tilden Middle School. Like his father, he is becoming a leader in Southwest Philadelphia, but in a very different way.

One day of peace could mean everything for a child in Southwest.

"They could be thinking about this day for weeks and weeks on," said performer Daeshawn Johnson. "This day could be huge to somebody."

The Stop the Violence Block Party is scheduled noon to 8 p.m. Saturday at 55th Street and Chester Avenue. Free admission.


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