ASpire: No Limits

ASpire: No Limits by Ernel Martinez. Photo by Steve Weinik.

“Shawn was a long-time friend, and we feel his loss tremendously. After Mural Arts Philadelphia created the beautiful mural honoring The Roots, I decided to join their Board of Directors and help them tell more stories of great Philadelphians.”

- Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, MC of the Grammy Award-winning band, The Roots

Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter speaks at the mural dedication. Photo by Steve Weinik.

About the Project 

Mural Arts and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, of the Grammy© Award-winning band The Roots, worked together to create ASpire: No Limits, a mural celebrating the life of Shawn L. “Air Smooth” White, Ph.D. Dr. White was a community leader, father, and educator who created educational health initiatives on HIV/AIDS as well as sexually-transmitted diseases aimed at young African American men in Philadelphia, before he passed away suddenly in April 2013. A series of workshops, programs, and community paint days accompanied the creation of the mural. 

Workshop topics included personal responsibility (Awareness of HIV/AIDS and sexually-transmitted diseases, as well as conflict resolution and anti-violence); wellness (holistic health promotion), and refuge (affirming oneself positively, defining personal goals, thoughtful decision-making).

The project included a barbershop pop up shop. Paint days and workshops were held at a shop in South Philadelphia for the duration of the project. Photo by Tim Blackwell.

About Shawn L. White, Ph.D. 

Photo by Lamont Wilson.
Photo by Lamont Wilson.

Shawn L. White, Ph.D. passed away suddenly on April 6, 2013, from hypertension. Dr. White was born and raised in South Philadelphia and stayed true to his neighborhood roots, becoming a fixture in the Point Breeze section of the area. Sports and music were his early callings, earning him both a collegiate football scholarship and a record deal as an MC and producer with the hip hop group, Divine Beings in 1994. Throughout his musical career, he worked with artists such as Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter of The Roots, super producer and musician Larry Gold, Kenny Whitehead, Beanie Sigel (helping to launch his career), and more.

In 2004, Dr. White earned a Master of Human Services (MHS) from Lincoln University and in 2011, his Ph.D. from Cappella University where his studies focused on analyzing and evaluating HIV and sexually-transmitted diseases risk among young African American men. Concurrent with his studies, he worked in social service with the Youth Outreach Community Awareness Program (YOACAP) as a cast member, peer educator, and youth trainer for HIV/AIDS awareness. His sixteen-year affiliation with the organization kept him face-to-face with at-risk communities who were fighting the battle against HIV and AIDS.

In 2009, Dr. White began his work with the University of Pennsylvania as co-chair of the HIV prevention research division’s community advisory board and the HIV vaccine study-working group. Shawn led SHAPE UP: Barbers Building Better Brothers. This health promotions program targeted young African-American men who socialized in barbershop settings, often a community gathering and safe space in urban communities.

While juggling full-time commitments to health awareness programs, Shawn continued to work on his love of music, partnering with friend and musician JaRon Burnett, to form the PHREMEN Music Group. PHREMEN produces music for various uses in the music industry and is also home to the PHREMEN Audio Studio Academy, which gives young people access to state-of-the-art facilities, instruction, field trips, mentorship, and more. Intertwined with the fun-learning model is the promotion of HIV/STI awareness and conflict resolution.

In his mid-thirties, Shawn was diagnosed with hypertension.  His friends and family knew of his condition but no one, not even Shawn, knew how severe it was.  On April 6, 2013, despite his healthy appearance, Shawn L. White passed away.

From Man to Man: The Legacy of Air Smooth – Reflections on the Life of Dr. Shawn L. White

Screened at the 2013 Black Star Film Festival, From Man to Man highlights Dr. White’s broad array of professional achievements, spanning his lifetime. This short film was created for his sons, Asa Salim White and Quadry Shawn White, as a vision board of their father’s sound moral grounding and expansive life motivations. The film is told through Dr. White’s closest friends, and offers a vivid glimpse into his personal character, unwavering resilience, and tenacious commitment to achieving his goals. More information can be found at https://aspirenolimits.com/.

I AM Project Photos by Lamont Wilson 

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

  • REFUGE workshop photo by Lamont Wilson.

REFUGE and the I AM Project 

During the project, REFUGE hosted a full-day workshop at Audenreid High School in South Philadelphia. Students at the school created vision boards and were inspired to think about their personal journeys and to map their personal goals. REFUGE incorporates mindfulness methods including yoga, meditation, and visioning exercises to address conflict from a reflective point of view.

The I AM project is a core component of REFUGE. The project challenges young men to think critically, and affirm themselves positively, peacefully and lovingly. REFUGE begins and ends with “I AM” statements, and photo portraits by Lamont Wilson in an effort to gauge the effectiveness of the  mindfulness workshops.