Syreeta Martin moved from Delaware to Philadelphia in 2006 with a dream of sharing other people’s stories, while carrying a one-year-old on her hip.
A nontraditional journalism student, Martin was busy being a mother, juggling multiple part-time jobs and attending school full-time. Originally, the 2012 alumna’s focus was magazine writing, but she decided to create a blog as a way to share her experiences.
“It was a very challenging time, though it also had its rewards,” Martin said. “[The blog] was my space to be able to process the things I was experiencing while hopefully inspiring someone else in the process.”
Eventually Martin’s focus turned toward the community, as she covered local events and hosted her own.
But then something changed.
“Writing for me, it just wasn’t the same,” Martin said. “There was something else missing on the creative end.”
Instead, Martin was entranced by the idea of a talk show. Her ideal show would feature a sit-down dinner, a nod to her love of food. But the transition wasn’t easy—especially because Martin had to be on camera.
“I thought I could have a similar if not greater impact [than Oprah],” Martin said. “[But] I thought, I do want to make this transition from behind a computer screen to on camera.”
“I didn’t feel confident,” she added. “At heart, I’m a writer. I wanted to go somewhere comfortable. I knew I would be comfortable in a restaurant.”
When the East Eden Vegan restaurant reached out to Martin in 2014 and offered her a space to host events, the talk show “Sincerely Chosen” began.
With the start of their second season, the “Sincerely Chosen” team now hosts the live show at Pub Webb at 1527 Cecil B. Moore Ave. The show premieres every third Wednesday of the month complete with dinner, live performances and interviews.
As guests pile in, the chief operating officer, Zuri Stone, also known as DJ G33K, sets the tone for the evening.
“Based off of who the crowd is or who walks in the door that night, I start to develop what I am going to be playing,” Stone said. “I’m kicking it off, we got some music going, then at a certain point when we are about to start the show we have live entertainment for a 15-minute set.”
Once the guests settle in, they sit down to a dinner while listening to the evening’s interview.
“It is electric,” said Andrea Lawful-Sanders, a previous interviewee and education consultant. “Lots of anticipation for who the guests are going to be when they come into the room. There is expectation. People are expecting that they won’t be disappointed, and they never are.”
“All of the interviewees’ stories in itself have something to offer you,” Martin said. “Whether it’s giving you a different perspective, or inspiring you or empowering you in some way, that’s what you’re able to get here.”
Interviewees range from celebrities to politicians to everyday people, but they are all chosen based on their role in the Philadelphia community. Regardless of the featured subject, Martin tries to keep the community in mind.
Last show’s guest, state Rep. Brian Sims, has announced he will run for U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah’s Congressional seat.
“I had to ask [Sims], ‘The second district is mostly African American, how are you going to make sure you are properly serving this community?’” Martin said.
Between the entertainment, guests can take a dance break and network with the interviewees. Martin wanted to create a show that allowed audience members to connect with influential community members.
“Her interviewees are pretty accessible. They will stop and exchange cards with guests,” Lawful-Sanders said. “It’s great.”
Since the show’s first episode, “Sincerely Chosen” has donated a portion of its profits to local charities and employed local youth as the show’s production assistants, Martin said.
“It’s a win-win situation for every person involved, and that’s what’s important to me,” Martin said. “It’s about having everyone who comes feeling better than when they first came in.”
Because “Sincerely Chosen” is still growing, the future remains open, Martin said. The goal is to go national, but there’s a certain local, homey feel Martin hopes to maintain.
“I never want to lose the in-person restaurant experience,” Martin said. “The fun and challenging part is thinking about what this will be like 10 years from now.”
Kaitlyn Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.