Paint and Poetry for a Purpose
Myra’s Vitamin Shop - 52nd and Girard
by Jamillia Kamara
The earthy smells of fresh herbs, organic soaps, and the smiling eyes of Nehemiah Davis immediately greeted me after opening the door to Myra’s Vitamin Shop on 52nd and Girard in West Philadelphia. Donning casual jeans and a cardigan with winter boots, Nehemiah invited me to sit at a petite table in the corner of the shop. There’s a tangible humility emanating from him. For this, he credits his mother for teaching him to “put God first and remain humble.” Nehemiah is the founder of the Nehemiah Davis Foundation and the Peace ‘N Philly Movement. He sponsored an art and poetry event on Sunday, January 26th, entitled “Paint and Poetry for a Purpose.” The social included two hours of networking followed by an open mic featuring artists as young as 6 years old from all over Philadelphia. More than 400 Philadelphians connected that evening. I caught up with him to discuss it all — the planning, the successful turnout, and what keeps this young, philanthropic entrepreneur motivated.
What inspired the Art and Poetry event?
“The first inspiration behind the event was actually collaboration, but when plans fell through, we were still a week out. Since we hadn’t done any publicity, I decided to go for it, what [did] I have to lose?” Nehemiah paused and smiled. “We pulled that event together in 7 days. I just said, God willing, we can make it happen. I reached out to the artists I wanted to paint and feature, I reached out to the poets I wanted to perform, and I reached out to [Luis Marrero] to host it. Once he [Marrero] said yes, it was a go from there. I wanted to paint for peace, and give people the opportunity to put something on the wall that was all their own…all of these ideas aren’t mine...my friends might say this [or that]…and I make it happen. I wanted to give people the opportunity to network and have a good time.”
Why is there an absence of these types of events in West Philadelphia?
“I think people don’t see a need for [these events] here. They think they don’t deserve better for themselves. That’s why we will just continue to collectively create things that people will enjoy.”
Tell us about the Nehemiah Davis foundation.
Nehemiah leaned forward in his chair, and looked pensively at the door of the shop. “We started that in 2007. My mom told me we had to give back. So, we started feeding the homeless on Monday nights with sandwiches at 18th and Vine, 6:30 at night. We haven’t stopped serving the community since. Once I started, I just wanted to keep going. I don’t get paid for it, I just like doing it.” He flashed a smiled and looked away. “I guess you could call it my calling, like what I’m supposed to do.” He paused to take a call. In the background, I could hear wind chimes and soft chatter. The space is inviting— enchanting art and photographs of positivity abound. He ended the call and continued, “We will do over 20 events this year. When you hear Nehemiah, it will be synonymous with something different, something unique. We’re just trying to create avenues to open the minds of people.”
How should budding entrepreneurs start?
His response was immediate, like an instantaneous switch went off in his head. “Just go out and try something. People think, ‘I don’t want to fail,’ but you can’t be afraid of failure. I fail all the time. I really don’t care. Some things just don’t work out.” He shrugged. “I think everyone who actually made it in a large way failed a lot, or made large mistakes. Many people don’t do things because they’re just plain scared. Being persistent and consistent and believing in yourself and that you can create the life you want is the only way to be successful.”
What were some moments from the Peace and Poetry event that stood out to you?
“I really loved the little girl... I love showcasing young talent. I’m going to find someone to make a millionaire by age 14. Just the overwhelming response of people coming out and enjoying themselves. I’ve never done a poetry show. I’m doing things that I have nothing to do with. I’m not an artist, I’m not a poet, so to put one of these events on is kind of cool.”
You stay in the background during your events, and you only speak when it is absolutely necessary. Why?
“I’m just the humble type. Of course I do want people to know who I am, but my thing is to serve people. I will pick your trash up, I’ll get your wine, and I’ll wipe your floor. I’m kind of going off the subject but the point is I really don’t care what I have to do. I pick up trash for a living so I don’t really care!” He laughed, but suddenly, his eyes flashed a look of laser focus. “I just want to make people feel special so that when they leave my event, they will want to come back to the next one.”
How did you decide to throw the event at the Urban Art Gallery?
“We were between two venues, and Urban Art Gallery wanted $65 an hour, but it wasn’t in the budget. I liked the space, it’s in West Philly, and I only want to do events in West Philly. By us brining it there, we brought him business. People have rented the space at least 5 times since then. He ended up donating the space at the end of the event, and now, we’ve formed a partnership.”
How do you bring so many different people together?
“My accountant reached out to me and said he wanted to help in any way he could. I told him, you can be a sponsor.” He broke into an infectious laughter, and I started laughing too. “My mentors are mostly older than me. They want to help young people. They want a prodigy that they can say, ‘I helped Nehemiah and he became…’ They don’t mind coming and supporting. We don’t ever have anything that isn’t [classy]. You can be 13, 20, or 50 and won’t be offended by anything because you can learn something from a young person as well as from an old person.”
On staying motivated:
He paused to think, then chuckled. “It’s rough sometimes. You just try to stay positive, surround [yourself] with the right people, and stay clear of negativity. I look at people who have reached huge amounts of success and see that I can be the same. You have to have affirmations. I’m doing everything that I used to do to get me where I am. They got me far. They change your way of thinking and make you believe that you can accomplish anything and make your life better. I want my legacy to be that [I] helped out, [I] made people smile, and [I] really tried to make a difference. If people say that, I will be a happy camper.”
Daviso Junk Removal: 267-507-JUNK
Myra’s Vitamin Shop: 666 52nd Street Philadelphia Pa, 19131