“Many times, it is a person’s first time interacting with a Black person, so I take pride in helping set the example of who we really are.”
The late Dr. Maya Angelou once said: ‘we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.’ It’s a quote that drives Milwaukee, Wisconsin native Phil Calvert, who also goes by the nickname Philwaukee, as he continues to spread a message of positivity around the globe—75 countries later and counting.
To know Calvert means interacting with a larger-than-life personality—standing 6 feet 3 inches tall—that instantly brings a smile to anyone’s face. Whether you see him on Instagram giving free hugs on the streets of Accra, playing basketball with children in Middle Eastern countries, or dropping Black history facts while standing on ice-covered mountains in Antarctica—the joy he brings others is infectious, to say the least.
And as his late grandmother always instilled in him, a positive attitude and smile go farther than anything, even if you have nothing else to give. Living out her words has led him to being invited to weddings by strangers in India, spending holidays with local families in Denmark and even welcomed into homes in Ghana to learn the art of making fufu from family elders.
However, as a child, seeing the world was something he never thought he would do, but it certainly was a dream.
At a young age, he was gifted a globe by his mother. He constantly studied the geography of the world as he imagined about the possibilities to come.
“Growing up, the people around me weren’t traveling very often,” Calvert told EBONY. “When I received that globe from my mom, I would point out places and dream about one day visiting them.”
That opportunity would come just after college, when he was offered a contract to play professional basketball in Europe— another dream of his growing up.
“In addition to seeing the world, I had two other goals: to graduate college and to someday play professional basketball, whether in the NBA or overseas. So, moving to Denmark to play professionally was a no-brainer.”
With less than a week to expedite his first passport, Calvert was off for an opportunity that would change the trajectory of his life. Of course, arriving in a foreign country brought some culture shock, but it was something he says he’d been preparing for, for decades.
“Living in Milwaukee, I was a part of the 220 Program that aimed to integrate more of the city. That program took me into environments that were different from the one I lived in,” he said. “I had been exposed to different forms of culture shock most of my life, so when I moved to Denmark, I simply utilized the advice my grandmother shared with me on staying positive.”
Fast-forward to present day, and that advice has now blossomed into a brand that is being recognized around the world— literally.
While living in Europe, Calvert took advantage of his proximity to so many other countries, and the low price to travel. It started with a weekend trip here and there until he had seen most of the continent. He began recording his adventures and encounters so his friends and family could come along as well. Now, over 50,000 Instagram followers later, “Philwaukee”, a moniker developed from his first name and the city where he’s from, is a household name for anyone wanting to get a glimpse of the world through his positivity lens.
“Don’t get me wrong, you can’t always be positive 24/7, but it is always my goal. I went as far as putting the word on t-shirts, and I wear them every time I travel. Not only are they conversation starters, but the shirts often serve as a reminder to others to just be positive.”
Despite the risks that come with navigating new countries as a tall, Black man, Calvert stays true to his authentic self, a trait that has allowed him to break down stereotypes and misconceptions that are often associated with Black men in the media. He also takes time to learn and understand other cultures, too.
“By being myself, it allows people to also see a bit of my culture as well. I’ll admit, I've often been stereotyped, but I feel it is my duty to have tough conversations when traveling the world. Many times, it is a person’s first time interacting with a Black person, so I take pride in helping set the example of who we really are as Black people.”
Calvert’s only other wish is that Black travelers do the same as they set out to see the world.
“The world deserves to see us in a different light!”