They all are 24 years old, attended Ramsay High School and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)—and together they started a movement.
Micah Lewis, Jerrod Dukes, and Joshua Echols are the team behind Vibestreet Photography and Recording Studios, a rental space near Five Points South that opened this year and hosts a broad range of photoshoots, videography, art shows, meetings, and even served as a site for a local reality show.
“Vibestreet is a conglomerate,” said Lewis, the founder. “It’s a lot of moving parts.”
It’s also an example of what can happen when young African-American creatives pool their talents and resources to form a business that was not around when they were coming of age.
“I wish there had been a Vibestreet when I was 16 or 17, a place I could rent out affordably and just try [things],” Lewis said. “… A lot of people that come here, it’s their first time … and they really get to shoot. We always try to take pictures of them taking pictures, so they can use that to promote themselves. Everything is about helping people and being what they need earlier on.”
He added that it was important to start in Birmingham because it’s a growing city with many different kinds of people.
“I love it here!” he said. “Being that we are from here, I think it’s important to have a platform here. … As much as Vibestreet has done, there is nobody in front of us helping us do that. We can be a platform that does that. Who knows how far this platform can send kids who are 4 and 5 now, when Vibestreet gets bigger and they’re older and trying to do something.”
The studio already has become a gathering place for people throughout the city.
Echols, chief financial officer, said, “Some of the people we call our friends now, we go out to eat [together]. We just had a pretty big dinner in August with a lot of people who came into the studio. … That friendship, just bringing people together through the community is what [Vibestreet] does for me.”
Coming of Age
Vibestreet started with a variety of events, including art shows and a business that sold apparel, such as hats and T-shirts.
“It’s always been a passion of mine to give people in the community a platform where they are able to express themselves because I’ve never been somebody who’s big on taking a lot of credit for myself; it’s always been about putting other people in a better light,” said Lewis. “That’s what Vibestreet at its root has always been.”
Lewis and Echols met in the sixth grade at the W.J. Christian K-8 School.
“We all played basketball a lot,” Lewis said. “I lived really close to the school, so after school, we would walk to my house and play basketball before everybody went home.
“When you’re younger you just kind of hang with people who have similar interests. … Even if we have differing opinions, … [Echols and I] always have similar core values, … [so] we can have civil disagreements. It comes down to I know there are some things Josh would never do and I would never do. That’s why you never really have to worry. … There’s always mutual respect.”
Lewis and Echols both lived in the Roebuck area, so they rode the same bus every day during high school.
“I call him ‘brother’ because we’ve known each other for so long,” Echols said. “We started out hooping in his backyard. … I’ve always been around. Even since his days at the Grand, [a club where Lewis was a DJ], I was always there supporting him.”
Lewis, who had a residency at the now-closed Grand, started DJing when he used to play the music video game DJ Hero. His mom thought it was funny and bought him his first turntables when he was 16.
“I really liked it,” said Lewis, who kept moving up to the next set of turntables.
Meeting of the Minds
Lewis and Echols attended Ramsay High School, where they met Dukes, who is Vibestreet’s operations coordinator.
“We weren’t as close as we are now,” said Dukes, who is from Pleasant Grove.
All three graduated from Ramsay in 2013 and made their way to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Dukes graduated in 2018 with a degree in business administration. Echols graduated the same year with a degree in computer science. Lewis studied audio engineering at UAB but left due to family issues, and that pushed him to focus on his dream.
“I always wanted to open a recording studio, … to have a multiuse space. That’s what [Vibestreet] is,” Lewis said. “When we started out, it was a recording and photography studio where people could also host events. Everything kind of led up to having a home base even before we had this studio. There was always an intention to have maybe a workshop, … to have an address, and to venture out and do other things. That was always the goal.”
When Dukes saw what Lewis and Echols were working toward, he wanted to be a part.
“I like these guys, so let me try to help any way I can,” said Dukes. “If that means selling merchandise, if that means helping out at whatever event [or] venue we might be at, it just seemed like the natural thing to do, to help out people out you like.”
Dukes has a behind-the-scenes role at Vibestreet, which he finds exciting.
“I really like making sure everything goes the way it’s supposed to go,” he said. “If you ever see me at any Vibestreet function, you’ll probably see me roaming around, checking to make sure everything goes right, checking in with [Lewis] if he’s DJing, checking in with Josh if he’s at the door.”
Even while running Vibestreet, each member maintains employment elsewhere.
Dukes has a position in the UAB logistics department, where he works with teaching specialists that develop science and math curriculums for counties across in Alabama; he’s been in this role for four years. “My managers are very understanding,” he said.
Lewis, who has worked with the UAB parking company for five years, also has support from his managers.
“I haven’t worked a weekend in years because I used to DJ, so they set that up for me,” he said. “At the day job, … I work on graphics and things like that for Vibestreet. Everything feeds into the studio. I see my day job as a part of this.”
Echols has been an implementation consultant at the information technology (IT) services company everis USA for a year.
Still, all three devote a lot of time to Vibestreet, which Echols described as “limitless.”
Dukes agreed: “I think what the future holds for us is literally whatever we can imagine. … Because the space is as big as it is, it can be as big as your imagination. So, as much as we can put into it, as much hard work, as many buildings as we can get, … it’s all just about how much effort we can put it in to help it grow and help other people.”
To get more information about Vibestreet Studios or set up an appointment, visit www.vibestreet.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The photography studio can be booked for $35 an hour, and events can be held at the space for $50 an hour.
This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.