Tyree Dumas is on a mission to change the lives of urban kids through dance
By Ben Porten
Tyree Dumas is defined by ambition. Whether its his own or ambition that he tries to instill in others, ambition rules his life.
An entrepreneur and self-made man, Dumas has a lot to be proud of. At age 22, his youth is enough to make anybody feel insecure about their own accomplishments. But Dumas isn’t looking to brag, he’s only looking to help.
Dumas, a Philadelphia native, is the founder and CEO of Dollar Boyz, a dance organization designed to keep kids out of trouble. Dumas, who goes by TopDollar, began Dollar Boyz after going to teen parties with his younger cousins, who would impress the party goers with their dance moves. When he recorded them and put them up on YouTube, they instantly went viral. Today, the videos have more than 5.8 million views.
“What I noticed – every time I walked around in the streets, kids would get excited,” said Dumas. “Like, ‘oh my gosh, that’s TopDollar!’ like I was this big multimillionaire celebrity guy.”
Emboldened by this and wanting to put his blooming star power to good use, Dumas decided to expand Dollar Boyz from a dance organization for his cousins into “an entertainment company that was open to all.”
When he opened the doors to all, all answered. Now, there are more than 5,000 registered members in the Tri-State area alone, with thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook to boot. Dollar Boyz expanded its operations to meet the needs of its members, and now includes a record label as well.
“I’m trying to expose these kids to things they’re not generally exposed to,” said Dumas. “What I’ve come to find is they don’t have a positive male role model in their life to steer them in the right direction, so I kind of fill that void for them.”
The Dollar Boyz dance program has been up and running for over three years now, with practices every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Anywhere from 30 to almost 300 kids show up for these, mostly to dance, but sometimes just to watch. “That’s not a problem; just as long as they’re not on the street causing mayhem, that’s cool,” Dumas said.
The location of the dance program changes from year to year, to better accommodate the kids since they come from all over the region. “Parents would drive their kids over from Jersey to be part of the program,” said Dumas. “I try to move around throughout the city to cater to all the kids.”
Dumas is currently collaborating with Concerned Black Males and Susan Slawson, the First Deputy Commissioner of Philadelphia’s Parks & Recreation, to expand into three recreation centers around the city. A parent of one of the participating children is going to donate a banquet hall in Susquehanna to help provide more spaces, too.
Funding may be sparse at times, but Dumas’ enthusiasm tends to be repaid in enthusiasm in turn, so things seem to work out for him. “I’m the kind of person, no matter what, I find a way to make stuff possible and to overcome my obstacles and get the things done,” said Dumas. “I pretty much invest all my personal money into the organization.”
“I’m able to reach the unreachable,” Dumas said. “The kids that don’t go to traditional programs, for whatever reason, they’re drawn to Dollar Boyz.”
John Brice, Dumas’s associate at Concerned Black Men, offered an explanation: “What’s extraordinary, is not only is he doing what he’s doing, but he came from some of the same seats where some of them came from,” said Bryce. “He went to Kensington High School, and so who better to be an example to the students but someone who sat in the same seats where they sat, and is now in the position where he has nine different Facebook pages because he has so many fans and followers on Twitter.”
Dumas’s newest project, Dollar Boyz Academy, is an attempt to give children the same opportunities he had. And very interesting opportunities, they were. Continue reading