By Candice Stockstell
What started as a peaceful venture to highlight black restaurants in Chicago, ended with a bang on Saturday night…
“It was a challenge to keep up with the momentum of the crowd,” said Jeffrey Muhammad, co-organizer and Assistant Minister at Mosque Maryam. No one was prepared, but it happened—some 5,000 anxious Chicagoans showed up to support the first ever, Taste of Black Chicago, an event that possibly left a historic mark on the South Side . . .
For Toure Muhammad—organizer, and founder of Black Eats Chicago—an effort to court black businesses to create jobs in the black community, has been in the works for some time. But it was this surprisingly, well advertised event —as seen on Fox News Channel, and Windy City Live— that sent a message of food and family that spread fast through the community, sparking an unexpected outpouring of support from Chicagoans of all different backgrounds, making Toure Muhummad’s vision of black-owned restaurants, headed by black chefs, a reality— showcasing a very different side of Chicago’s South Side.
In spite of recent portrayals of violence in the news, hundreds peacefully lined the parking lot of Mosque Mariam— headquarters to the Nation of Islam, lead by Minister Louis Farrakhan, who kindly opened their gates to house the positive event. “New crowds rotated in and out with every hour that passed,” said Toure Muhummad. Patrons were able to sample a variety of foods from more than 35 vendors serving everything from vegetarian cuisine and “Jamaican Jerk,” to delicately delightful desserts, like turtle cupcakes from Brown Sugar Bakery, given freely to a patient crowd waiting for long lines to dissipate. Chefs, who were only allowed to prepare food onsite, ran out of supplies several times, rotating employees in and out to replenish supplies, during the event which started at 2:00PM and slowly wrapped around 8:00PM. “I don’t know how they managed, but somehow they did,” said the proud organizer.
The easy-going crowd was also graced with live entertainment when a Opal Staples, a member from the well-known music family of Mavis Staples took the stage with coordinated dancers, arousing an energetic crowd. Bubbly patrons sang along while the smell of charred meat and aromatic spices began to fill the air again, as chef’s prepared another mouth-watering round of cuisine right before their eyes.
“It was worth the wait,” said Lisa Muhammad, a now happy patron, taking a savory bite from “veggie fried chicken bites,” which she stood in line for nearly an hour to sample, from Golden Fork restaurant. Other vendors like Brotha Blanks—an organization for black abolition—aligned their focus to anti-violence with t-shirts demonstrating the restriction of guns. Fierce female contenders, like Casiopa Uhuru, of The Black Mall, came with a different message of support, namely for women entrepreneurs, promoting their own t-shirts labeled “Building My Queendom.”
Those vendors and many others contributed to an array of unique products such as hand-crafted jewelry, canvas art, essential oils; and all-natural skincare. Artists and art dealers put the icing on the cake, decorating the event with bold and colorful art displays, while others passed out flyers to promote their black-owned businesses.
All in all, the Taste of Black Chicago proved to be more than just a small gathering in the black community, as Asian, Caucasian and Latino Americans all came out to support— and enjoy some rather good “eats.”
What started as a well-intentioned effort to unite black businesses with black patrons—cross-generational and cross-religious— to promote kinship, ended with a bang reeling in over $50,000 in sales in a mere six hours. Get ready for next year!
For more information on Taste of Black Chicago, and other upcoming events, visit BlackChicagoEats.com.