*PHILADELPHIA – Music mogul and entertainer Sean “Diddy” Combs, Grammy- and Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx and internationally renowned songstress Regina Belle are among the litany of stars converging on the city Dec. 16-19 to initiate the inaugural Joy to the World Fest.
The December weekend of activities is designed to offer food, health services, education and information with a touch of stardust to children and families across Greater Philadelphia that are facing financial hardship during this holiday season.
The event is the brainchild of Tyrone L. Gilliams Jr., a University of Pennsylvania graduate and ordained minister who heads T.L. Gilliams, LLC, a Pennsylvania-based private commodities trading firm with global holdings.
Highlights of the weekend include a celebrity bowling night, a day of free kids’ activities; an invitation-only black-tie gala with a red-carpet; a feeding initiative to reach 5,000 in need; and a closeout inspirational concert. Thousands from across the region are expected to participate in the series of events that will raise money, collect toys, provide meals and services as well as draw awareness to three critical crises lashing locally – hunger, homelessness and youth development.
Celebrities coming to participate in the festival and its cause include DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles; megaproducer and entertainer Jermaine Dupri; actors Boris Kodjoe, comedian Kevin Hart, Vivica A. Fox and Lance Gross; members of the Bravo hit show, “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and many more.
“From a social standpoint, the needs are greater now than they have been in my lifetime,” said Gilliams, who grew up between Camden, N.J. and North Philadelphia. “I’ve done things, helped people, all my life. But I was moved to take it to the masses.
“Giving is not a week-to-week or season-to-season thing. It’s a lifestyle,” he said. “What we’re trying to establish, through this event and others that will soon come, is a giving mentality. If we can inspire others to do the same, they will encourage others. Then the idea becomes a movement. And a movement is what we need right now.”
A recent series by the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that hunger and food insecurity are rising in the city and region. Nearly 1 in 3 is afraid food would run out before more could be gathered. Area food cupboards, emergency shelters and kitchens have seen a 30 percent uptick in requests, many from first-time visitors, according to the advocacy campaign Philabundance.
Hunger, much like soaring foreclosure rates are symptomatic of unemployment and underemployment, which fuel the growing threat of homelessness. As of Nov. 22, the unemployment rate for Philadelphia stood at 11.2 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. New Jersey’s Camden and Salem counties, also part of the Philadelphia MSA, also reported unemployment rates higher than the national average, at 10.2 and 9.9 percent, respectively.
These realities will be on the floor during the weekend’s signature black-tie gala, hosted by Combs. The evening will feature an assortment of movers-and-shakers, casting a national spotlight on combating the aftermath of the prolonged economic downturn.
Cost defrayment for Joy Fest comes from major event sponsors T.L. Gilliams LLC, Ciroc and Mercedes-Benz.
The weekend’s events are the gambit for the newly formed Joy to the World Foundation. The charitable nonprofit entity, launched by Gilliams, seeks to address hunger, homelessness, and youth development in urban centers across America. This year, Philadelphia is its focus.
Last month, partnering with Mayor Michael A. Nutter, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, state Rep. Kenyatta Johnson and various social service agencies, Gilliams opened the Joy Fest season by giving away nearly 1,000 turkeys across the region.
Thousands responded to the public offer. The onslaught of calls from families facing hardships at one point crashed the telephone system at one legislator’s office. Hundreds stood in line in the cold to claim the birds for their Thanksgiving Day meals.
“All these events, they’re meant to be catalytic, to inspire,” Gilliams said. “Inspire people who might be on the verge of giving up. Inspire kids who might not have believed any one cared about them. Inspire those of us with means to do more than talk about problems, but to actively work to solve them. We’re Americans. Nothing is out of our reach. We dream big. We reach for the stars.”