Dayton was going to be a quick pit stop for Basim Blunt.
The Jersey City, New Jersey, native came here in 1994 for a radio gig with Ronita Hawes Saunders, then-owner of WROU 92.1.
He thought he’d end up in Los Angeles, but fate, funk and family had other plans.
“I fell in love with this community,” he said. “I fell in love with what Ronita was doing.”
Basim also fell hard for a Dayton girl, his now wife Toylyn Blunt.
The Blunts are now raising a blended family of seven.
“Dayton funk” captured Basim’s heart long before he hit the Gem City. It didn’t hurt that Toy’s cousin Billy Jones was a member of Heatwave.
“I think that sealed the deal,” Basim said with a laugh. “I said ‘I am going to marry into this family’.”
The downtown resident grew up listening to Dayton funk and recalls seeing Heatwave and the Ohio Players at Madison Square Garden in New York. He caught Zapp at that city’s Felt Forum. Basim’s mom included funk albums with the care packages she would ship to his brother, now-retired Marine Jay Blunt, during the Vietnam War.
“It was the soundtrack of my youth,” he said of funk. “People all over the world get funk. I associate funk with happy days and BBQ and holidays.”
Basim — now the host of “Behind The Groove,” a funk show on WYSO — said he is always amazed to see funk musicians around town.
“I am just really proud of the funk scene that came out of Dayton, Ohio,” he said. “I was just blown away seeing people like Roger Troutman and Sugarfoot at the grocery store.”
We asked Basim his thoughts about his adopted city.
What do you do?
I produce a radio show called “Behind The Groove” Friday nights from 10 p.m. to midnight on 91.3 WYSO FM Public Radio, but the work that I’m most proud of is being the project manager for the Dayton Youth Radio Project. I teach teenagers how to produce their own radio stories. It’s very intense.
A self-confessed geek. My cousin calls me a Christian who curses. I’m working on that.
Where do you live?
We have lived in downtown Dayton forever, first on top of Boston’s Pub and most recently at the St. Clair Lofts.
What is your superhero name?
“Radio” Basim AKA the Dark Dick Clark.
What inspires you about life in Dayton?
Dayton has finally gotten comfortable with its urban identity and is not jealous of the surrounding suburbs anymore.
What is Dayton’s biggest hidden gem?
By far, its neighborhoods and communities north, west and east are uncovered pearls. I say this because south of Dayton has restaurants, Starbucks and markets with fresh produce while the other communities are struggling to keep their Taco Bell open. If I ever hit the lottery, I would invest big time in building a strong business sector in Five Oaks or Dayton View so there would be more jobs for the people there. They are getting hit right now.
How did you push through challenges?
My church (Omega Baptist Church) and my church family have made all the difference for me. They have ministries that cover well-being for our kids — grade school through college — and marriage retreats for my wife and I. It is a seven-day-a-week church when Sunday worship wasn’t enough.
Where do you go for a great time?
We love going to Dragons games, concerts at Riverscape MetroPark, and the Neon Movies has absolutely the best buttered popcorn. I would also need more than two hands to count all the good times I’ve had at Gilly’s.
February is Black History Month. How do you think black Daytonians have contributed to black history? Is there something that brings you personal pride?
Are you kidding? So much history from this small beautiful city! While everyone knows Paul Laurence Dunbar and they should, his fame only scratches the surface of our great African-American legacy. Bing Davis is a living national monument. I watched Olympian Edwin Moses break track-and-field records that still stand today. But of course I’m partial to the funk baby. Groups like the Ohio Players, Slave, Lakeside Zapp and Heatwave are the soundtrack of my youth. I had no idea that these musical giants all came out of this city. I’m like Damn!
How has race impacted your life in Dayton? Have you or do you face any obstacles because you are black?
No matter where we live, we all have to face the Black Tax, right. There is disparity in race with family incomes, educational choices, and now they are stripping back the voting rights act that my grandparents fought and died for. But through it all, I love being black. The melanin in my skin links me to kings and queens — a most beautiful and resilient global family. We took slavery and created blues; Jim Crow and created jazz; segregation and discrimination and created funk and urban blight and mass incarceration and created hip-hop. I just wanna kiss myself.
How racially integrated is life in Dayton?
Just look at the RTA hub or how we plan Urban Nights with absolutely no events for our African-American teenagers. It makes me feel that the planners want to hide us or just hope we won’t show up to the Dayton community events, when all we really need is some love. Are African-Americans at the planning stages for such things? I don’t think so. Black families are stuck on the west side. It’s a vicious cycle of poor performing schools and drug-ridden communities that you have to be so strong to break out of this cycle or you’ll find yourself in a racial hourglass. Parents have to build strong families to make it out. Too much white acceptance only comes through acknowledging high school athletes.
Do you think race relations have improved? What should be done to improve them?
Yes, they have. I taught a class at Ponitz CTC last fall and was so impressed with the dedication and love poured into those students. I don’t feel like the teachers saw race in those kids. They just wanted them to succeed.
It takes a village and right now, people need jobs. I think if a young person has a choice to say go to college or get a job and earn a living wage, they would pick the latter. But there’s no bus service to where the retail and upscale jobs are. And parents see the news about John Crawford getting shot in Beavercreek, and they’re afraid for their children.
I think race relations is the dominant cause of the total abandonment from the business sector of the Salem Avenue corridor turning it into a ghost town. But like I said, through schools and Dayton institutions who are making connections to its people of color, one-on-one relationships are breaking through the color barrier.
What would you change about Dayton?
Not too much. It’s a great town, and the living is easy. There’s plenty to do especially, if you love brewfests, but I hope the leaders don’t let our beautiful black and Hispanic neighbors leave the city for more racially inclusive and diverse areas of Ohio. The people here are our greatest resource.