Alexandria’s DeShuna Spencer wants you to binge on Black culture without the interference.
The founder and CEO of kweliTV has dedicated herself to celebrating and amplifying international Black stories and storytellers. After five years in business, she’s now got 40,000 registered users, with 48,000 watchers of her live channel.
“It’s been a rough couple of years,” Spencer said. “My goal is to make things better. I want to change the world. I know that I’m only one person, but I feel I at least can do my part with my platform.”
Spencer runs the steaming service from her basement in the city’s Parker Gray Historic District of Alexandria. The content (seen for $5.99 per month or $49.99 per year) includes award-winning independent films, documentaries, web series, animation and children’s shows like Look, Listen and Learn.
A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Spencer harbored dreams of becoming a journalist, and got a degree in communications and journalism from Jackson State University. She cut her teeth as an intern writing crime stories for the Oakland Tribune, but found the work unfulfilling.
“I didn’t want to know the coroner or the police chief,” Spencer told ALXnow. “I wanted to be in media in a way that celebrates authentic Black stories.”
“Kweli” means “truth” in Swahili.
The live channel launched in 2020, during a period of social, medical, emotional and political upheaval. Spencer said that people needed a positive outlet to act as a safe space, which is what she provides.
Spencer also founded emPower Magazine in 2008, and shut it down in 2017 — the same year she launched kweliTV.
ALXnow: From publishing Empower magazine to today, you’ve been doing this work for years. What was the spark that lit this flame for you?
Spencer: I started as a journalist, I was a writer first. After I graduated, I ended up moving to the (San Francisco) Bay area and getting an internship at the Oakland Tribune. That was the real spark, because I was always the first person to get in the office. I was still sort of thinking it was Central Time, so I was always really early. I lived with six other girls and three bedroom apartment in Alameda, California. I would literally be the first person in the newsroom at like 6:30 every morning just because I wanted to get out of the house. The only other person in the office would be the senior cop reporter, and since I was always there first, he would always give me really interesting stories.
After the internship was over they wanted to hire me full-time as a cops and courts reporter, but I hated those stories about people being hurt, about Black people getting shot. That was pretty much my job, where I would interview someone’s mother whose child was shot… I didn’t want to know the coroner or the police chief. I wanted to be in media in a way that celebrates authentic Black stories.
That’s when I started meeting with community organizers and people who were actually trying to make change. I ended up moving to Buffalo, New York, and I was an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer. It gave me a different perspective on the work I wanted to do, and I really wanted to focus on those people who were making an impact. I ended up moving to the DC area when I was 24 years old and I became the communications manager for a trade association. They had a monthly magazine that I was put in charge of. I was always a reporter, so I had to learn how to manage people, manage money and manage projects. It was an invaluable experience.
ALXnow: What’s the difference between your streaming service and others?
Spencer: At the root of it, it is really about dismantling what we see as this Black narrative in traditional media. That’s the mission of kweliTV. I truly believe that storytelling is, by changing, can change the world.
For us, number one is for people like me who celebrate ourselves, where we’re not seeing images of trauma and suffering. Number two, this is for people who don’t look like us to understand why culturally they may not necessarily see it in traditional media. Hopefully, we’re able to change perceptions on how we’re seeing ourselves and by people who are not part of our culture.
ALXnow: Is traditional media missing the beat?
Spencer: People have felt fatigued with the media, and I felt that having a streaming service and using documentaries and cultural films to tell stories had a much bigger impact than the news cycle. The path is extremely clear and I’ve always I’ve always focused on social impact content. That’s very important to me. But also, I know that people tend to digest content through watching versus through reading.
Documentaries are our number one genre on kweliTV. We’re not going to have a bunch of reality shows in order to build our audience. We’re going to stick to our guns and may not be for everyone. We know that we’re different. We’re mission-driven and we’re not going to be one of those other platforms, and we’re okay with that.
ALXnow: Are you hoping to produce your own content at some point?
Spencer: A lot of platforms jump out the gate trying to create their own content to compete with Netflix. That’s our goal. Our goal is slow and steady growth to eventually create original documentaries and documentary series. In the future, our goal is to definitely move beyond movies and shows and to also focus on health and wellness content. We really want it to be an experience for an entire family, where they can come for practical advice, or, for instance, if you had a bad day to do breathing exercises. I’m really excited about having conversations with Black wellness coaches and financial experts so we can really expand our platform in a way that can help our community, whether it’s financially, physically or mentally.
ALXnow: Everybody was stuck at home a couple of years because of the pandemic. Was that good for kweliTV?
Spencer: It was. That’s why we started the live channel in 2020. People were suffering financially, especially if they were frontline workers.
ALXnow: You’ve realized that giving away content is valuable part of your business model.
Spencer: Exactly. The live channel is ad-supported, totally free for anyone who wants to watch the channel. We saw it as a bit of a benefit especially during the height of the pandemic where everything seemed so uncertain. It’s been a rough couple of years. My goal is to make things better. I want to change the world. I know that I’m only one person, but I feel I at least can do my part with my platform.
ALXnow: What is your vision for kweliTV? Where do you want it to go at the end of the day?
Spencer: The overall goal is for kweliTV to be a global brand, that when people think about a mission-driven platform that they think of us. I would love to get into farming creatives who are underrepresented to be able to fund their projects. I hope that whatever is the technology of the day, we’re still in it and we’re still evolving to meet new combinations of where the world is.
Alexandria’s Katrina Hill was crowned the Jeopardy champ on Thursday night’s (July 28) broadcast, and she’ll be defending her title tonight.
Hill, a partnership development manager with the $27,601 on Thursday’s show with host Ken Jennings. Tonight she faces Arlington attorney Luigi De Guzman and California rhetoric professor Darin Ciccotelli.
Hill’s former employers tweeted about her win and so did State Sen. Adam Ebbin.
Friday’s show will broadcast at 7 p.m. on ABC.
Tonight’s Jeopardy champion, Katrina Hill, is from Alexandria and one of her challengers tomorrow is from Arlington!
— Adam Ebbin (@AdamEbbin) July 29, 2022
Question: The @Wolf_Trap_NPS Usher participating in Jeopardy tonight Jul 28 at 7:30 PM.
Answer: Who is Katrina Hill?
Good luck, we’re all rooting for you! pic.twitter.com/j0d48NFhYL
— Wolf Trap (@Wolf_Trap) July 28, 2022
Fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series have another treat on Sunday (March 6) in Old Town. In addition to the season 6 premier on Sunday, there will also be an Outlandish Tour of the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum.
The Apothecary Museum is known for incorporating popular culture into their work. For years, their Harry Potter tours have been popular for potions-masters-in-the-making.
The Outlander romance series is about a World War II-era British nurse who is transported back in time to the Scottish Highlands in 1743. The Apothecary Museum first opened for business in 1792, and operated until 1933.
This Sunday’s tour begins at 11 a.m. and a guide will talk about some of the herbal medicines that are featured in Outlander series, as well as the role of apothecaries and women in medicine in the 18th century.
Monte Durham is plotting a television show set in his Old Town hair salon.
“We’re trying to get a sizzle reel together of Salon Monte for two production companies,” Durham told ALXnow. “One is with Ann Roberts‘ production company out of L.A., and the other is local. Who knows where that’s gonna land, but they are in the pipeline and we are seriously sitting down and speaking with them.”
Durham, the bridal image consultant and former star of Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta, was filming Say Yes to the Prom in New York City when the pandemic struck in March 2020. Soon after that, his contract expired as the network abruptly went dark.
Durham said he signed a contract to start filming with Roberts, but that the pandemic put the project on hold.
“And here we go with this mask mandate again,” Durham said. “That may be happening, so we’re just gonna play it by ear. Nobody’s in a hurry. We want to make sure these that we’re stepping on solid stone when we’re doing this.”
Durham, who turns 65 this year, moved to Belle Haven and decided to go back to his roots as a hair stylist. He opened Salon Monte six months later, on September 12, 2020, which is the anniversary of Jackie Kennedy’s wedding to JFK. Durham is a Jackie Kennedy aficionado and even has a portrait of the former first lady in his personal studio.
“I’ve never been more excited, more driven and more motivated to make this work,” Durham said of the salon.
Local musicians bring jazz home with Yellow Door Concert series — “The Ambrose’s founded the Yellow Door Concert Series in 2018 after noticing a lack of opportunity for community members to experience the arts and music in Alexandria. They named the series after the yellow doors they have at their home. Robyn, a classical bass player, and Vaughn, a jazz saxophone player, began the predominantly jazz concert series by hosting their first concerts inside their home in Alexandria.” [Zebra]
Alexandrians eliminated from ‘Crime Scene Kitchen’ reality show — “Alexandria’s own Erinn Roth and Amanda Carter went out on a high note from the competitive cooking show on FOX.” [Alexandria Living]
New chef at Kaizen Tavern in Del Ray — “The restaurant introduced a new menu from Chef and Owner Melvin Urrutia. Urrutia was formerly the executive chef at The Handover ALX, People’s Drug and the now-closed sushi favorite, Flying Fish in Old Town…” [Patch]
Today’s weather — “Mostly sunny skies. High 96F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph… Partly cloudy. Low 76F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]
New job: Temporary enrichment and fitness instructor — “In pursuit of service excellence the Enrichment and Fitness Instructor provides youth, adult, and senior leisure classes at various recreation centers through the City of Alexandria. In this role, you will have the opportunity to ensure that the goals are met to provide a safe, fun, structured and engaging atmosphere for all our customers. Enthusiasm, flexibility and excellent communication skills are needed to be successful in this position.” [Indeed]
TV Show for Monte Durham’s New Salon? — “There is a possibility that Durham’s salon will be the premise of a new show. ‘I am very proud to say that I have been tapped on the shoulder by a production company out of L.A. that has signed a contract to do a sizzle reel on the hair salon, hopefully to take that to a network and sell it so we’ll have a show on that,’ Durham announced at a Visit Alexandria meeting last month.” [Alexandria Times]
Alexandria BBQ Restaurant on Local TV — “Tommy McFly visit[ed] Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster in Old Town Alexandria to see what it takes to cook award-winning barbecue.” [NBC 4]
Beyer Campaigning for Mayor Pete — “As Pete Buttigieg struggles for momentum going into the South Carolina Democratic primary and Super Tuesday, two members of Congress from the Washington region are traveling the country to promote his presidential campaign. Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) were early endorsers of the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Ind., who they say has the personal story and calm demeanor to unite a nation divided by Donald Trump’s presidency.” [Washington Post]
New Bubble Tea Spot in Old Town North — “Ya-Gút St. Coffee & Treats ‘is the place for all things sweet,’ said Dustin Ngo from behind the counter of one of Old Town North’s newest businesses. The specialty shop opened in January at 682 N. St. Asaph St. next to its partner restaurant, Sunday in Saigon… The shop serves coffee drinks, unique pastries, bubble tea and gelato.” [Alexandria Living]
T.C. Boys Advance in Tourney — “TC Varsity Vs Robinson regional quarterfinal take the win 49-47. Next round, Friday, 2/28 5:45 @ Fairfax HS.” [Twitter]
Donation to Support School Sensory Room — “Daniel MacDonald was just six-years old when he passed away in 2018, but thanks to a $10,000 donation from his family, he has left a legacy at Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School that will benefit other children.” [ACPS]
Award Winning Teacher Highlighted on TV — “See @TCWTitans teacher Kimberly Wilson on @ABC7News! This year she was named National Teacher of the Year by the Association for Career and Technical Education.” [WJLA, Twitter]
Alexandria Dog Featured in Puppy Bowl — “The Puppy Bowl features dogs from shelters and rescue groups like Alexandria-based dog rescue Operation Paws for Homes. The rescue group is holding a watch party Sunday, Feb. 2 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Wag & Brew, 614 S Pickett Street, Alexandria.” [Patch]
Crash Snarls Rush Hour Traffic — Just before 5:30 p.m. last night a crash, reportedly involving a car and a motorcycle, shut down portions of Sanger Avenue and Beauregard Street, snarling rush hour traffic. [Twitter]
Apartment Building Purchase Complete — “The purchase of an Alexandria apartment building that will provide affordable housing units is complete, the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation announced Thursday. Avana Apartments, a 326-unit apartment complex at 3001 Park Center Drive in the West End, will have some units available at lower costs for households that meet income requirements. It will be renamed Parkstone Alexandria.” [Patch]
Waterfront is Highlight for Local Visitors — “Another standout in the data was attraction to the waterfront. In a portion of the survey where respondents were shown photos of scenes around Alexandria – which included shops along King Street, cobblestone roads and historic sites like Mount Vernon – the photos that performed the best were those with water. ‘Our historic character is really important but showing a place that’s on the water is very inspirational to people as a place that they want to visit,’ Vito Fiore, director of marketing and research for Visit Alexandria.” [Alexandria Times]
No Anniversary Beer for Port City — “Each year for our anniversary we craft a unique style of beer. Sadly, after monitoring the brewing process we have decided COLOSSAL IX does not represent our dedication to great quality beer, and we will not be releasing an anniversary beer in 2020.” [Twitter]
Some residents are downright angry at what they describe as major traffic backups caused by recent changes to Seminary Road.
Last month the city repaved and re-striped a portion of Seminary Road, changing it from two vehicle travel lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction, a center turn lane and two bike lanes. Some construction activity is still underway but people who opposed the project from the outset have wasted no time in decrying what they say is a significant increase in traffic as a result.
“Get rid of these stupid islands, get rid of these bike lanes,” local resident Phil Cefaratti told Tuss. “People on my side are very, very frustrated… we’re basically calling on City Council, especially the mayor, do to something about this.”
Cefaratti echoed other residents who call the result of the changes a “traffic nightmare” and Seminary a “parking lot” during rush hour, saying it now takes up to 20 minutes to go a mile at times.
Seminary Road this morning. Gridlock is bad, but moreover, how will an ambulance get to the hospital? This isn’t safe. @AdamTuss @Marcella_Rob @fox5dc @AlexandriaNow @AlexTimesNews @AlexGazette pic.twitter.com/57UjfYpnnn
— Jill Hoffman (@JHoffman_DC) November 18, 2019
Tuss also interviewed a resident who was happy about the changes, saying it’s a safety improvement. Some took to Twitter after the broadcast to voice similar views.
“I wasn’t listened to” = my opinion wasn’t implemented. I live off Seminary. It’s so much better! Never felt safe walking, running, or biking on it. Driving on it wasn’t that great either.
— Gary Michael (@GMSHOOP) November 20, 2019
The traffic will slowly get better, as it did on King Street when they did the same thing. My child has been hit by a car walking home from TC (thankfully no injuries). Anything this city can do to make it safer would be appreciated.
— Baby Yoda (@202StateofMind) November 20, 2019
City staff told Tuss and previously told the City Council that they expect the daily delays to ease as work concludes and some signal timing changes are implemented.
“While we understand that delays are frustrating, the corridor is still under construction and all of the components that work together to make this project work are not yet complete,” Hillary Orr, deputy director of Transportation and Environmental Services said in a memo. “While there have been some increased queues during the peak half-hour in the morning, we are still generally seeing vehicles able to get through a signal in one cycle.”
Opponents of the changes, meanwhile, are continuing to speak out and have formed a Facebook group to coordinate and gripe. One recent post on the exceedingly active Facebook group says that Mayor Justin Wilson has agreed to watch observe traffic congestion with residents on an as-yet undetermined weekday morning.