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Coffee, Culture and Conversation


Marc Lamont Hill’s coffee shop is the  new ‘It’ spot in Germantown

(Photo Left) Uncle Bobbie's owner Marc Lamont Hill.  Photo by Sarah J. Glover.

It’s a cold Sunday afternoon, and fluffy white flakes of snow swirl from the sky above Germantown Avenue. Still, there are few seats to be found in the front room of Uncle Bobbie’s Books & Coffee, on Germantown near Church Lane.

Patrons have either settled into the comfy red high-backed chairs in the corner, slid into the couches along the wall, or propped their laptops under the plate-glass window that faces out onto the cobblestoned street.

Marc Lamont Hill stands behind a glass display counter filled with freshly baked pastries. He is an author, activist, CNN commentator, professor and, also, the owner of Uncle’s Bobbie’s.

He graduated from Philadelphia’s Carver High School for Engineering & Science and went on to graduate from Morehouse University in Atlanta. He is Professor of Media Studies and Urban Education at Temple and has also taught at Morehouse and Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Hill opened this bustling shop in late November. It was part of a life-long dream to operate a bookstore. A dream inspired by the uncle who taught him the think both critically and with racial context.

Since opening, the smartly renovated coffee shop has become the It spot for area black intellectuals, cultural enthusiasts and others in the neighborhood looking for a good cup of coffee and a few minutes of conversation.

That might mean MSNBC commentator and renowned U.S. intelligence expert Malcolm Nance, who popped in on opening day, or Walter Bell, a well-known flutist who has gigged with Nancy Wilson, Ray Charles, George Benson and the Count Basie Orchestra.

“Mr. Bell!” Hill calls out in greeting, on this Sunday. “We got some banana pudding in.”

Bell chooses the pudding and a cup of a tea and settles for a few minutes in one of the high-backed chairs.

The coffee served at Uncle Bobbie’s is provided by La Colombe, and patrons can also purchase sandwiches and wraps, but much more than coffee and food are offered here.

Throughout the two-room shop, book-filled shelves cover topics ranging from black literature, to young adult fiction, to philosophy. Some feature sweatshirts for sale, emblazoned with affirmative slogans like “writer.”

Events in the back room, such as film screenings of “Chasing Trane,” a documentary about John Coltrane, and Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” are followed by, no doubt, spirited discussion. As a commentator for CNN, Hill has also done verbal battle with conservatives FOX-News personalities as Bill O’Reilly, Mike Huckabee and Sean Hannity.

The location for his coffee shop was formerly a daycare center into which he poured $250,000 in renovations. Its decor is quaintly done, still displaying the location’s original tin ceiling, but now customized with a chandelier made of dozens of shellacked book pages.

Abuzz with conversation, the sound of Aretha Franklin crooning in the background, and Hill’s voice playfully prodding patrons into debate: it’s just the kind of place his Uncle Bobbie would have relished.

 

 

Coffee, Culture and  Conversation
Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.

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