In its heyday, Overtown was at the vanguard of Black culture. Once a thriving community, the neighborhood played host to the likes of singers Sam Cooke and Billie Holiday, poet Langston Hughes, and civil-rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr.
Now, local funny man Kyle Grooms wants to bring Miami's historic Black neighborhood back into the limelight.
“Just knowing the history and that James Brown used to perform there, Sam Cooke, all the jazz musicians that have been there — I’d love to bring that energy,” Grooms says.
That energy could come in the form of a weekly lounge-style comedy show at the Urban on NW Second Avenue. Grooms views the Black-owned business as essential to Overtown's revitalization.
“It looks like an adult playground,” Grooms says of the space. “This is a good spot. I could put my energy in, and I could bring my friends to come play with me.”
Grooms has lined up a roster of talent, people he’s known from his nearly 20 years in stand-up comedy. In Living Color’s Tommy Davidson will headline the inaugural show on Thursday, February 11, followed by Tony Rock on February 18.
“We worked forever at Coconut Grove,” Tommy Davidson tells New Times about his first meeting with Grooms. “We worked forever at [the Miami Improv], and he’s been doing comedy for years and years.”
Grooms is excited to start entertaining the residents of Overtown.
His own history with the neighborhood goes back decades. As a student at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, he visited to shoot photos for a class project at the tail end of the 1989 Miami riots.
When he arrived, some of the buildings were still smoldering and police officers were doing their rounds in riot gear.
“I remember taking a picture of some guys in front of a store, and I told them, ‘Hey, I’ll give you $5 [to pose for a picture],' and he was like, ‘Man, take a picture. I ain’t got no warrants,'" Grooms remembers wistfully. "I still remember their eyes, how their eyes looked. You’ve just got to see the look of somebody who’s been drinking on the corner all day."
As the college-age Grooms documented the aftermath of the uprising, he observed a neighborhood that had been struggling for a long time.
“It didn’t look much better [before], but after the riots, the buildings were burnt down or knocked down,” Grooms says. “Instead of being broke, it just looked broken.”
In the early '90, Grooms landed a job at WTVJ-TV (Channel 6) in downtown Miami, where he would catch further glimpses of a locale that was a far cry from the Overtown that was once hailed as the Harlem of the South.
“One time, someone stole a news camera out of the back of one of the trucks,” Grooms remembers. “It was somebody from Overtown, and I didn’t know who to root for.”
Decades later, Grooms finds himself committed to contributing to the neighborhood's revitalization.
“I need to add to this or be part of this,” Grooms says, referring to the Urban's sprawling outdoor patio. “This needs comedy.”
As Black-owned businesses open throughout Overtown, Grooms sees a bright future ahead for the community. He singles out the opening of Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster, also on NW Second Avenue.
“Once a Red Rooster goes in, you’re like, ‘Oh, OK, this is happening,'" Grooms says. “A Black-owned business, and then the other ones start popping up.”
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