Think of every negative thing you've ever heard about Harlem men. Now, forget it. The new uptown man values education and cares about the community, according to Landon Dais, the resident politician of BET's new dramality series "Harlem Heights." The son of noted community leader Larry Dais, Dais is following in the footsteps of his father and President Obama by ushering in a new era of grassroots politics. The difference? He's not giving up his active social life to do it. ESSENCE.com talks with the charming Morehouse grad about the show's critics, the lowdown on his cast mates and why there's nothing wrong with a little drama.
ESSENCE.COM: Why did you agree to be a part of "Harlem Heights?" What do you hope to accomplish through the show?
LANDON DAIS: It's pop culture with a positive twist. It has the potential to bring about constructive social change because it shows young, college-educated African-Americans, who are just trying to do the right thing.
ESSENCE.COM: How do you respond to criticism about the show being scripted, or too focused on drama?
DAIS: People complain about drama, but the most successful reality shows always have some sort of conflict or controversy. And what relationship doesn't have drama? (Laughs.) Compared to everyone else, I'm tame. Drama-free. I've had some disagreements, like heated debates about HBCU's versus regular colleges. I don't pay attention to critics. I don't read blogs. No matter what you say or do, people are going to pick you apart. If you look for dirt, you'll find it. I think the positive message will overshadow.
ESSENCE.COM: It's refreshing that you and your cast mates were friends before the show started. Which cast member are you closest to?
DAIS: I'm closest to Bridget, who I've known since college. We have a brother/sister relationship. I'm not going to lie, we fight sometimes, but it's because we care about each other. Christian and I are competitive, probably because we played against each other in basketball and football in high school. I love Briana because she'll put you in your place in a heartbeat. Pierre and I have similar community aspirations. I'm trying to help Jason get the nonprofit off the ground. And Brooke's my neighbor and Ashley and I are cool.
ESSENCE.COM: The first episode gave a touching tribute to President Obama. Were you involved with his campaign at all?
DAIS: I volunteered for his campaign, making calls in Indiana and Ohio. And I'm president of the Uptown Democratic Club (uptowndems.org), an organization that strives to keep the energy of President Obama's campaign alive: getting young people involved in their communities and encouraging them to run for office. We're coordinating a block cleanup on April 4 at 117th Street and 8th Avenue. The goal is to get 500 people to help clean up 10 square blocks.
ESSENCE.COM: What are your political aspirations? Do you see yourself running for President, eventually?
DAIS: (Laughs.) Not president, but let's just say people are drafting me to run for office and I'm considering.
Check out BET's "Harlem Heights," on Mondays at 10 PM ET.