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You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.
"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."
"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.
"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."
"Facts," Mero confirms.
Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.
"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."
So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.
For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."
Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."
"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."
"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like, "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."
The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs. “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”
From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.
As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."
Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.
It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.
The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.
Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.
With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers, how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.
Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:
“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."
Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.
Having your life flash before your eyes in the blink of a second can shake a person to the core, but on the backend, survivors of that experience often bounce back with a renewed fervor and zest for life. Errol Spence Jr. falls in the latter category, as he's been able to bounce back physically and mentally, from the horrific car accident that could've potentially taken his life in October 2019. Eager to prove his sustained injuries haven't made his claim of being the best pound for pound fighter in the game any less valid, the 30-year-old boxing sensation is set to face fellow welterweight Danny Garcia in a title bout on December 5, 2020, at the AT&T Stadium in his home state, Texas.
A unified champion, having held the IBF title since 2017 and the WBC title since 2019, Spence Jr.—who is currently undefeated, with twenty-six wins on his professional resume—is regarded as one of the most exciting fighters in boxing, with a knockout-to-win ratio of 80.8%. Having garnered comparisons to boxing legend Floyd Mayweather and victories over tough competitors like Kell Brook and Sean Porter, Spence Jr. is highly regarded and battle-tested. However, there have been concerns if he can recover to his previous form, even within his own camp. According to Spence Jr., any doubt was quelled once he got back to what he loves best: letting his intense preparation work its magic in the ring.
"I mean, you have little small doubts when it first happened, things like that," Spence Jr. admits to VIBE via phone. “But I'm very mentally strong, I stay focused. I just got back in the gym and kept working and kept focusing on my skills in boxing. I think my dad and my coach probably had more thoughts of, 'Can I take a punch? Is my reaction time still the same?', and things like that. But once I sparred, it was all basically back to normal. So I just feel like stuff happens for a reason. It happened in my life for a reason and I feel like it refocused me back on the main mission, on the main goal." And that main goal is continuing on his path to boxing supremacy, which could include a road-block in the form of a potential showdown with rival and WBO welterweight champion Terrance Crawford. However, Spence Jr.'s attention is fixated squarely on his upcoming fight, where he'll face Garcia and remind the world of why Texas ain't nothing to play with.
VIBE spoke with Errol Spence Jr. about his return to the ring, earning respect within the hip-hop community, fatherhood, and what fans can expect come Saturday night’s matchup.
"It's the biggest comeback in professional sports." — Derrick James has been amazed with @ErrolSpenceJr's return back to form 😤 #SpenceGarcia #ManDown pic.twitter.com/MMmsnvlUxZ
— FOX Sports: PBC (@PBConFOX) December 1, 2020
VIBE: It's been over one year since your last title fight, in which you defeated Sean Porter. How does it feel to be getting back into the ring?
Errol Spence Jr.: Man, it feels great, really, indescribable. It's a blessing that I can come back in a little over a year and fight at the top level, fight a top opponent like Danny Garcia, and defend my titles. Especially fighting at home at the AT&T Stadium. I don't think it can get any bigger than that, so it's great. I'm very thankful for the opportunity to be doing this at this type of level coming out of my accident, and it's good. It's definitely a blessing.
Shortly after your last fight, you were involved in a single-vehicle accident in the early hours of October 10, 2019, and hospitalized in the intensive care unit. You sustained facial lacerations, but no broken bones. What impact did that experience have on you?
For me, I just feel like it was an unfortunate accident, but it brought me back down to reality. To take care of stuff that's really important in my life and means something in my life and not take things for granted with life and boxing. For me, it made me feel like it got me back on track and focused, and made me hungry for what I really wanted to accomplish in boxing and in life.
What would you say have been the biggest challenges on your journey back from injury?
I would say my biggest challenge was both mental and physical. There were days where I was hurting physically, but I mentally pushed myself or did something to better myself every day. Whether it was training or stretching or doing some type of work that was positive in my life. Whether it was staying focused and rededicated to the work and not slack off. When I had a bad week or bad day, I didn't let it put me down. I went harder the next day, so I would say mentally and physically.
Who are your biggest influences as a boxer and why?
I take stuff from everybody. A lot of people watch boxers just to watch the fighting, but I'm watching footwork. I'm watching how they react to punches, which way they slip, how they block, their counterpunching, everything. I grew up watching guys like Terry Norris, Lennox Lewis, Floyd Mayweather, Roy Jones, and Vernon Forrest. All of these great fighters that as you grow up, you're watching their skillset and you know how they throw their punches and how they react to punches. For me, it was a wide variety of different fighters I was watching.
In addition to surviving the accident, another moment that's impacted your life is the birth of your son. How has that changed your outlook on life and how you approach your craft as a boxer?
I don't think it changes my life as a boxer and how I approach boxing. But it gave me a different perspective 'cause if I didn't survive the accident or something drastic happened, he would've never have been born or I probably never would've had him. I feel like he's a new blessing in my life, definitely a breath of fresh air. I always wanted a son, too. I've got two daughters and this is my first son. It was definitely a blessing to have a III 'cause my dad's name's Errol, too. It's really a blessing to have somebody else who's gonna look up to me and try to do things I do. It's all about setting the example and setting the table up right for him so he can eat, too, when it's his time.
A Texan at heart, you recently bought a sixty-acre ranch in Dallas and even learned how to ride horses. How would you say the culture of Texas impacted you and helped form who you are as a fighter and a person?
I think the culture of Texas impacted me a lot just because of being outside. It's wide open in Texas, everybody's outside. Owning the land basically gives me something to do with the cattle and the horses and all different types of things. I think it's a peace of mind to ride horses that I never had before. I've never been on a horse and I've never even petted a horse prior to me buying land. I feel like it's a positive in my life and it's something that I can pass down to my daughters and son, or they can grow up on a ranch and ride horses. I'm putting their mind into other activities rather than doing the other stuff that's not gonna benefit them.
A large segment of the hip-hop community are boxing fans, with many artists and listeners listing you as one of, if not, their favorite fighter in the game right now. How has it felt to be embraced by the hip-hop community and get that street cred and tag of approval?
I mean, it feels great. Rap culture is hip-hop culture. Period. That's what kids like me grew up on, watching BET and 106th & Park, and all the rappers' videos as a kid. That's basically who we idolized when we saw them get cars and jewelry and girls and money and things like that. Naturally, that's who we were drawn to. So that means a lot to see them embrace me and support me.
What are some songs or artists you usually listen to that get you hyped up while training or before a fight?
Artist-wise, I listen to Lil Baby. I listen to Yella Beezy. Jay-Z, Nas, those type of people when I'm in chill mode. Yo Gotti, Moneybagg Yo. Yeah, that's about it.
You're currently signed with Premier Boxing Champions, one of the best boxing teams in the game. How has it been working with PBC?
It's been great. That's really all I know so it's been great. I haven't had any complaints, never had any issues, everything's been going well. Everything's been going great, it's been a smooth ride.
Your fight with Sean Porter was billed as one of the best fights of 2019. With him being such a respected fighter, what did you learn or take away from that particular matchup that you'll be using moving forward?
Sean Porter, he's a different fighter. He's basically gonna go out and give his all and brawl and fight. For me, I didn't really learn anything going forward. Everybody just realized that if I have to fight, I can fight. I think I really showed that I can stand there and beat somebody at their own game and really buckle down and be really gritty with opponents if I really have to. I think that's the main thing I learned: that I can fight in the trenches.
Would you say that's been your toughest fight thus far? If not, who would you say presented the biggest challenge thus far and why?
I'd say my toughest matchups so far was...well, I think Sean Porter wasn't my toughest matchup 'cause I feel like it wasn't as mentally tough as Kell Brook. Taking a ten-month layoff and basically fighting someone in their hometown. Going overseas and having to train two weeks before the fight and all the different types of things you have to go through. Training somewhere different, different food and things like that. I would say Kell Brook. The mental preparation was very hard, especially fighting in front of 30,000 of his hometown crowd. That was mentally tough in itself.
On December 5, you'll be fighting Danny García, one of the more imposing boxers in the welterweight division. What do you feel sets Garcia apart from the other boxers you've faced?
I feel like Danny Garcia has great timing. He's very tough, packs a great punch, and he's a guy that's gonna fight. He has a great chin and he'll fight if he has to.
The fight will be taking place at the AT&T Stadium in Dallas. How does it feel to make your return in front of your hometown fans, where it all started?
For me, it feels great. It's a blessing just to fight in my hometown, in front of family and friends. I'm able to get tickets to a lot of family and friends who aren't able to travel to L.A. and New York to come to watch me fight. Just to get that hometown love. They're the people that supported me since day one since I was an amateur. And I feel like it's just a blessing to be able to do that and draw that many fans to really come to support me.
What can fans expect from you once you step in that ring on December 5?
They can expect from me what they get from every fight: an action-packed, one-sided beating. I want everyone tuned in on FOX Sports and Pay-Per-View. It's gonna be exciting. I've never been in a boring fight, Danny Garcia's never been in a boring fight, so [they'll see] an action-packed, electrifying fight.
One name you're constantly mentioned with is Terence Crawford, who many feel is the best pound for pound fighter in the game. What are your thoughts on Crawford as a boxer and are you looking forward to stepping in the ring with him one day to prove you're the undisputed champion of the welterweight division?
Right now, I ain't got no thoughts on Terence Crawford. I feel like l gotta get past Danny Garcia for that fight to even happen. So if I don't focus 100% on Danny Garcia, he's a real spoiler and he spoils the apple cart. My 100% focus is on Danny Garcia right now.
People often speak about the politics of boxing and how it prevents certain fights that the fans are clamoring for. What would be your message to the fans about how the business side of boxing matches up with the entertainment aspect?
I'd tell them to be patient. The fights worth happening are definitely gonna happen, especially if the two fighters want it. But at the end of the day, there's a business side of entertainment. You've got managers, promoters. You've got TV networks involved, things like that, and everybody wants to get paid. It's like you can have a great fighter. If he's not having any draws on TV and nobody likes to watch him and he's boring, he's gonna get shut out. Just like guys like [Guillermo] Rigondeaux. He's a great fighter, but nobody wanted to fight him. He wasn't a crowd-pleaser, so he basically got shut out. You gotta be patient, at the end of the day. Yes, we fight. We take punches and things like that, but we also wanna get paid for what we do. And we wanna get paid righteously just like the manager is gonna get paid righteously and the TV people are gonna get paid righteously, too. We wanna get a fair shake and get paid the same way.
What's next for Errol Spence Jr.?
I just wanna tell everybody that after this fight, I'm gonna go back to the gym and keep working and stay focused. I want everybody to go order the merch. Esjthetruth.com—get your fight merch there. And basically, for me, just like every fight, stay focused, stay dedicated, and stay ready for a call.