by Mark Casasanto
For the second time this week, Philadelphians came out en masse to celebrate a famous birthday. Just two days after the party on the Parkway to celebrate the nation’s birthday on July 4th, hundreds turned up and out today to serenade and honor native son, Kevin Hart, on what is now known as Kevin Hart Day.
With fans, friends and the curious packed into the intersection of the bustling business district at Germantown and Erie Avenues, dignitaries dotted the stage in front of Steaks after performances by Philly favorites Freeway, Chill Moody and Bria Marie.
City Councilman-at-Large, David Oh, who also co-hosted the event with City Council President Darrell Clarke (5th district), stepped to the microphone sporting a Phillies cap and business suit shortly after 12pm to introduce a full line-up of speakers, sponsors and partners. Among those introduced to the crowd on this, Kevin Hart Day in the City of Philadelphia, were State Senator Sharif Street, Jane Golden (Executive Director of Mural Arts Philadelphia), WDAS Radio personality Patty Jackson and Councilwoman Cindy Bass from the 8th councilmanic district.
As the steady drizzle intensified and the speakers rolled on, the growing crowd became increasingly impatient as umbrellas popped up and once perfect sight lines of the stage seemingly stood now obstructed. Still, the party pressed on… paired with the inaugural Erie Avenue Family Day, there were street games, Subway sandwiches and plenty to keep everyone engaged while awaiting the neighborhood icon all came to see.
Finally, just before 12:30pm, Robert Hart was called to the microphone to introduce his little brother. After brief remarks- he humorously described how his family never left the neighborhood instead they just kept leapfrogging homes on the consecutive blocks of Erie Avenue- Robert pleaded with the crowd not to spray paint on his brother’s mural that sits high on the wall of the steak joint looking down on the avenue. “At least for a couple weeks..” The mural was designed by the artist who also made it come to life, Mississippi born, Willis “Nomo” Humphrey.
With Quincy Harris of Fox29 and Fox’s The Q now at the helm of the revelry, on a three count, the crowd burst into a jovial version of “Happy Birthday” as only Philly can do. Under a colorful rain of confetti, sprinkled with mother nature’s own 38th birthday present to the man of honor, the actor, comedian and North Philadelphia native stepped to the podium to the cheers and screams of a fantastically frenzied crowd.
It may be a well kept secret to some, but even during his ascent to becoming the highest paid comedian and one of the most recognizable faces in the world, Hart truly never left the neighborhood in which he played, schooled and learned his craft as the funniest shoe salesman in the city. He returns to the city regularly, his brother Robert noting “he’s back here every week!” He also recorded his 2015 live concert film, What Now?, in front of 53,000 fans, at Lincoln Financial Field. His philanthropic efforts have resulted in over two-hundred thousand dollars in college scholarships for local high school students, not too mention, well over a quarter of a million dollars to the School District of Philadelphia for computer, electronic and other essential upgrades.
As he said today, “the people (neighborhood and city) made me who I am…“ He feels the love and he’s not afraid to show the love in return. Before turning his phone into selfie mode to capture his image just above him, he jokingly but poignantly recalled how at one point in his life he needed people to buy him cheese steaks at Max’s. Now, his face is on the wall of the place.
Philadelphia is known for producing legendary performers from as far back as before the Bandstand Era, then the disco and Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP) years, through our sitcom stars of the ’80s and ’90s. Now there’s a new face of the neighborhood, but don’t step out of line! From high above the avenue, Kevin Hart is watching you and he may just be behind you at Max’s. “Wit or witout?”