The concept was perfect, an African food festival, a weekend event honoring African food and fashion in Brooklyn. The entire thing coming into play at a time when we are hungry for anything that affirms positive aspects within Black culture. For many of us, our links to Africa are framed in negativity. To be dark skinned was to “look like a slave.” To have nappy hair was to “look like a savage.” Then there is the whole dialogue around “soul” food, because art, music, and other aspects of culture were missing. These common quotes and ideas spoken to Black children by Black adults have too long clouded our eyes to anything beautiful in our heritage. It all just gets to be a bit much. The richness of our African heritage has been hidden by a pogrom that kept the system of slavery in place in this country for way too long. Assisted by an educational system that introduces slavery to children early in their elementary school years, adding to their burdens without helping them to see the positive contributions made by the enslaved to the development of this country. It does little to foster curiosity about the Motherland. Instead we are feed European ideals, art, music, fashions, and food. Yet, we hunger, more often silently, for a connection, some link to tastes that excited our palates and our souls.
In our rush to create, as young people of all generations are want to do, we often leap out alone without the foundation of community, particularly that of our elders. Those folks who have been around the block, and know a thing or two about how stuff should be done. We step out without the wisdom of years of experience, finding ourselves reinventing a wheel, instead of pushing a well built one along. Unfortunately that’s what today’s adventure turned into. As I sat in a restaurant a few blocks from the Fest, hot, hungry, and just plain tired, I noticed the VIP event badge still on my wrist. I removed it while I also struggled to put my thoughts, hopes, and aspirations into some type of positive workable framework to gel with the fresh memories running through my head. I just felt beat up. I wanted, needed, craved success. I longed for the tastes that never arrived, for the music I didn’t hear, for the conversations sparked with laughter that never happened. My struggle was unfortunately too real, and shared by too many. I learned this as a deep masculine voice spoke to me, touching me with tenderness, saying he could tell I hurt by the way I removed the band, and slowly wound it up, laying it before me with so much care. His awareness was profound. I looked up into understanding eyes, and listened as he shared with me his disappointment, and that of the women surrounding us, sitting at too many tables, almost completely filling up the restaurant. His friend joined the conversation and we spoke of our sorrow, our need, our shattered dream. Crazy, we’d all just left a food festival, and we were all hungry and it wasn’t just for food.
But the reality is so complicated. Earlier in the afternoon I’d spoken to the idea guy behind the event. He was young, energetic, and trying so hard to be upbeat even as he put out fire, after fire, after fire. All he had wanted was to do something special for us. To be an African creating an event for the Africans in America, an event honoring our shared culture before people of European descent stepped in and create one for us. To bring the seven principals of Kwanzaa’s Nguzo Saba to life. But desire without support on such a large scale can be hard if not impossible to pull off. But the buck has to stop somewhere and he was being honorable, trying to do what he could to remain faithful to his dream. But what of the others? What of the chefs that were not on point and not honorable enough to simply cancel when they were late, way too late for the fans who kept accepting the “they’ll be here soon” announcements. Their lack of respect and responsibility was appalling, truly not acceptable. Their inability to honor their commitment or to say they couldn’t, even at the last minute was simply just not right. The concept of “CP” time is bullshit. You’re a professional, if you plan a meal to start at 2:00, then it should start at 2:00, or you cancel so people can at least respect you for respecting them and their time, especially at the price point that was paid.
As for the rest, well, inexperience in today’s world of instant critique gone viral will make it hard for the next go around. Rethinking, re-branding, and scaling back are options that exist because these things happen. As for me, I’m whipping out the books, searching the pages, and cooking my way through the bags of groceries that came home with me. I’ll cover my table with the results, fill my airspace with the music, invite some friends over to feast with me and share the whole deal with laughter to sooth my soul. But I will also ask the Divine to bless the brother who tried, while I pray that Day 2 doesn’t bleed his soul dry, because Day 1 left some heavy scars which will take a while to heal. #nycafricanfoodfestival