February is Black History Month, a time during which we recognize and honor the contributions of Black Americans throughout our country’s history. Not only is it essential to use this month as a way to commemorate the lives of leaders of the Black community, it also allows us to reflect on the history of the U.S. and to appreciate the changes that have been made to better our society. However, we still have a long way to go. As Americans, we each make a commitment to tirelessly fight for equality and opportunity for all. Remembering and celebrating the impact of these Black Americans in the face of such adversity is a critical part of that commitment.
The History of Black History Month
The idea of formally celebrating the achievements of Black Americans originally came from historian Carter G. Woodson in 1915. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland, a prominent minister, founded the ASNLH (the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History) in order to dedicate time to researching and acknowledging the accomplishments of Black Americans that weren’t be represented in American society. In 1926, their foundation sponsored a national “Negro History Week” during the second week of February to honor the men and women who were pioneers of change as well as to connect the event with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. This first celebration inspired communities across the country to organize their own festivities and to begin hosting performances and lectures that highlighted Black culture. These celebrations continued annually in cities nationwide, eventually evolving into a month of commemoration until 1976 when President Ford officially recognized Black History Month as a month-long observance.
Today the ASNLH is known as the ASALH (the Association for the Study of African American Life and History). They continue the work of Dr. Woodson to “promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community”.
2019: Black Migrations
Every year the ASALH announces a theme for Black History Month to be the focus point during their month-long observation. This year the theme is Black Migrations to “emphasize the movement of people of African descent to new destinations and subsequently to new social realities”. The migration of Black families and individuals throughout the U.S., and globally, has resulted in more diverse populations, the establishment of new religions, and the genesis of new forms of music and visual & literary art. This movement allowed communities to evolve in new and unique ways, and laid the foundation for the society that we live in today.
The FoodtoEat Community
At FoodtoEat, we strive to unite all people around a communal table and seek to add diversity to the local food community by highlighting the immigrant, women and minority-run food businesses that we represent. We believe that every person’s history is essential to who they are and contributes to every aspect of their lives, including the food that they create. For those reasons, we’re so excited to kick off Black History Month by highlighting some of the Black American vendors that we work with and telling their story about their business and the mission behind it. If you’re interested in supporting these business this month (or any month!) please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about pricing for your next meal or event!
Novar Excell, Owner of Excell Kingston Eatery: Excell Kingston Eatery is a Jamaican style catering company that was created in 2014 by chef Novar Excell and his wife Keelia Excell. The duo are originally from Jamaica and migrated to Brooklyn, New York in 2014. They use authentic, homemade recipes that will transport you to the Island after just one bite. Based in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, they service all five boroughs of New York City, catering any event from birthday parties to corporate lunches to large food festivals.
Yemisi Awosan, Owner of Egunsifoods: Yemisi is the chef and owner of Egunsifoods, which she created to introduce others to the diverse, delicious and flavorful cuisines of West Africa. She was born in Nigeria but raised in New England and wanted to create a farm to table company that honors her background, while also focusing on flavor, taste and nutrients. She sources her ingredients from locals farms in New York as well as partners with farmers in Africa to source their raw materials. Her mission is to actively give back to African farmers and artisans, creating a long-term impact through social entrepreneurship instead of short-term donation through philanthropy.
Charles Chipengule, Owner of Jaa Dijo Dom: Charles is the owner and chef behind Jaa Dijo Dom. He was born and raised in Botswana, Africa and growing up he always had a passion for food. After graduating high school, he was able to save up enough money to open a breakfast food stall, which funded his technical college courses in engineering and culinary courses. However, due to the dire economic conditions in Botswana, he eventually had to close down his breakfast stall and emigrated to the U.S. After arriving in the U.S., Charles worked at various restaurants and took culinary classes in NYC to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. It was during this time that he was inspired to open Jaa Dijo Dom (an African name that means “a place to eat”) with the idea of bringing together the various cuisines of African nations to a wider audience. Today he takes the time to select the best dishes and flavors from different countries in Africa in order to share the food that he grew up eating and to create a diverse and flavorful dining experience.
Yaya Ceesay, Co-Owner of The Soul Spot: Yaya is the chef and co-owner of The Soul Spot, a fast casual restaurant that combines the best of African, Southern Soul and Caribbean food. Although this may seem like a unusual mix, Yaya serves a unique array of food that represents the food that he grew up eating and the food that learned how to prepare through research during his time in the U.S. Yaya came to the U.S. from West Africa when he was 17 and worked as a chef in Manhattan for many years before opening The Soul Spot in 2003. Although people doubted him when he first started his business, he’s been a staple in his Brooklyn community for 16 years and believes that the passion he sows into his food is what his customers continue to be drawn to and trust.