One Step At a Time

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.”

Tyree Dumas

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

A Rising Star

Stacey Howard has made a quick rise in the world of fashion design

 By Bianca Heyward

On the eighth floor of a glass building in New York City’s lower West side, Stacey Howard, 25, spends a lazy Sunday afternoon in her apartment wearing baggy black pants, and a baggy black sweater with a seemingly infinite supply of holes and rips.

With her long straight black hair swept across her pale face, she looks looks like your typical urban graduate student. But, she is anything but that.

She is a shoe designer who is making a name for herself in the wider world of fashion.

Her unbound creativity and resourcefulness that got her where she is now – designing shoes for the successful fashion line, Elizabeth and James, started by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

Her trajectory to success has been rapid and steep.

Stacey Howard

Howard, a Los Angeles native, attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where she studied graphic design. During her senior year there, she jump-started her career by catching the interest of Steve Madden, a world-renowned fashion footwear mogul, who over the past 20 years has turned his brand into a household name.

“One of my projects for school was to customize a product,” explained Howard. “So, I went down to visit my friend in Savannah. And we were going to all these military bases, like all these flea markets, and I was really into it. We found so many combat boots that they were selling in Soho for like $150. And these boots were $10. So I decided to take all the boots back to New York and buy all these clothes, and cut them up and glue them on to the boots. And so I wanted to start selling them, and someone told Steve Madden about my project, and he wanted to help.” Madden is the founder of the successful footwear company, Steve Madden Ltd.

When Howard started working with Madden, they created their own line called “Stacey and Steve”, which was sold on the Steve Madden website. It consisted of combat-style boots, which came in various colors.

While working there, Howard recalls, there was no such thing as a typical day. Exploration and creativity were not only encouraged, but, part of the job description. “At a certain point I was taking military jackets and putting fabrics on it, and he (Madden) was like ‘Alright, lets sell it in the store’”.

Her experience with Steve Madden was invaluable. Working for a large company that attracts a wide audience, the challenge, as a designer, was finding out what other people would buy.

“I’ve gone with Steve to different cities, and watched how many girls love his shoes, and how many different shoes there are. For example, the girl in Oklahoma is loving a shoe that I would never think someone would love, but it’s awesome. They’re screaming over that one shoe. So you give them a wide range [of styles], and people are happy, and he does it for a good price.”

After having spent almost two-and-a half years working with Steve Madden, Howard was ready for something different. “I didn’t even have an office,” she says laughing. “I would sit with Steve at his office. It was really cool for awhile, and then I was like alright, I’m 25 years old, I need to start actually working.”

A few months ago, Howard starting designing shoes for Elizabeth and James, which is one of Steve Maddens licenses. She works as a team alongside her co-worker, Jackson Moad. Continue reading