When Anthony Bourdain filmed the New Jersey episode of Parts Unknown, he met up with Tawanda Jones in Camden, which at the time had one of the country’s highest murder rates (crime has since declined). Jones runs Camden Sophisticated Sisters, a nonprofit dance, drum, and drill team that aims to create safe spaces for local youth. She spoke with Explore Parts Unknown’s Tafi Mukunyadzi about what Bourdain got right about her hometown, where she wishes she had eaten with him, and the impact that appearing on the show has had on her organization.
Tafi Mukunyadzi: What was it like to film the episode with Bourdain?
Tawanda Jones: I found him to be very authentic. I’ve done a lot of interviews, and what I loved most about him was the way that he treated people off camera. I’ve done a few interviews where people are basically barking out orders. Tony was a people person. He was very respectful.
He asked me to take him to my favorite spot to eat, and we didn’t travel far. I took him to Ruthie’s [Tony & Ruth Steaks] in North Camden, and he said, “Of all the places you could have gone, you just wanted to stay close to home.”
I said, “You told me to take you to my spot. This is my spot.”
I didn’t know what he expected. I was a little intimidated at first because I didn’t know what kind of place I was supposed to take this guy.
We ordered a bunch of food and just pigged out. He made me very comfortable, and I almost forgot I was doing an interview while we were eating. I remember when we stopped filming so the crew could change a battery, Tony told me to make sure I keep going with the work that I do with the Camden Sophisticated Sisters. I really appreciated that.
Mukunyadzi: Did he get a chance to interact with the Camden Sophisticated Sisters?
Jones: He came to my house, and the kids performed for him right outside. He couldn’t believe how well the smaller kids were keeping up with the big kids during the performance. Tony even danced a little bit. We all took a big group picture, so it was pretty cool. There was a lot of energy that day. I felt like he genuinely cared about the children. I’m very grateful and very honored to have even been in his presence.
Mukunyadzi: What do you think Tony got right about Camden?
Jones: He showed the truth. I mentioned the obstacles the children in the city face and talked about politics, and he didn’t cut any of that out. I felt like he really listened to me.
Mukunyadzi: Did you have a favorite moment with him?
Jones: He asked why I think Camden, New Jersey, is the way it is. Sometimes I can get a little frazzled when I talk, but it was easy to talk to him. I explained how many people love to only blame politicians when things aren’t going right in their community. I think the situation we find ourselves in is something that falls right back on the neighborhood and the community. I think he was surprised by that answer.
Mukunyadzi: How did appearing on the show affect your organization?
Jones: I noticed that whenever the New Jersey episode would air, someone would call me and say they saw the group and that they were going to send us a donation. It was a heck of an impact, and it helps us out tremendously.
Mukunyadzi: Was there anywhere else you wish you had taken Tony?
Jones: Honestly, I wish he could have taken me somewhere to eat. I usually just stay in my comfort zone, and he went all over the world trying all these new things. I would have loved to have gone somewhere with him.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.