Clay Williams and Colleen Vincent had a simple idea: bring Black food creatives together in one space and let the magic of Black community flourish. This drive for community formed the foundation of Black Food Folks.
The Origins of Black Food Folks
The idea sparked after Williams and Vincent worked in food for many years as well as working at the James Beard House. They saw one another during events and industry functions and naturally gravitated to one another. Williams and Vincent also noticed that they came across the same Black folks in these spaces but only connected in passing. As years passed, more brown faces appeared in the room and a natural, if informal, community began.
Black Food Folks formally organized in early 2019. As a celebrated photographer, Clay had a repository of images of a growing community of Black creatives and Colleen had a natural eye for detail and organization. Initially launched on Instagram, the gorgeous photos of Black food folks made a visual Rolodex of Black creatives. In addition to the feed, a robust monthly newsletter offered job listings, community news, and a growing list of resources directly to your inbox.
Over the first year, there were nationwide meetups, curated talks in collaboration with other industry organizations like the Food Writers Workshop and the James Beard Foundation, and a growing urgency to activate the collective. At the one-year anniversary party, there was a sense of momentum and joy that felt kinetic. Indeed, a whole host of forthcoming projects and initiatives were planned for that coming year—and then COVID-19 hit.
Connecting Virtually During COVID-19
The world stopped during quarantine for so many in the collective. The food world was at once essential and forgotten, and depending on what space in food you occupied, your reality was changed overnight. For the first month, everyone was in shock and simply trying to regain sure footing; but the power of Black Food Folks was that it operated precisely as it was intended. The network activated and immediately became a resource hub. It was a virtual phone tree and lifeline to community members in need of anything from navigating unemployment to sharing resources about the ever-shifting COVID-19 city guidelines for operation.
One of the most fortuitous shifts for the Black Food Folks community was the Live Community Check-in. Instagram had just begun to allow dual guests in live videos and allow the videos to be saved to a profile feed. Clay and Colleen began using the feature on a nearly daily basis to talk with friends and quickly recruited community members to join in hosting duties. So many creatives who a month before had been unreachable thanks to 80 hour work weeks were suddenly at home. They found solace and respite in hosting and consuming the growing roster of programming.
Building a Community on Instagram and Beyond
I hosted a collaborative program with AfroPunk called "The Politics of Food" where I spoke with farmers, food justice activists, chefs, and government officials about the impact of coronavirus on food and policy. The dynamic team of chefs Mavis-Jay Sanders and Sicily-Sierra of Food Plus People had "The Drink Tank" where they would talk pop culture and industry shenanigans and do it with charm, humor, chemistry, and a cocktail. Cassandra Rossario of Food Before Love would use her vibrant personality and marketing savvy to talk travel, wine, and PR in ways that were at once interview and masterclass.
Chefs and restaurateurs David and Tonya Thomas brought their decades of expertise and heartwarming love for one another to the feed and talk with other couples in food about partnership, community, and relationships. There was Jackie Summers on Fridays talking wine and spirits, Kayla Stewart, Vonnie Williams, Aretah Ettarh, Osayi Endolyn, Paola Velez, and many others bringing crafting conversations with everyone from Dr. Jessica B. Harris to 16-year-old chef Rahanna Bisseret Martinez.
The 200-plus episodes were created by community for community, and represent a small sample of Black people in food. The result is a living and growing archive of black thought and black agency in food during a global event. The impact of this programming is monumental. Tiffany Rozier, host of the Afros and Knives podcast and founder of Set the Table Media, was profoundly impacted by the body of work created. As a professional who has been building a media platform for many years, she points out the necessity for community buy-in: “Black Food Folks is a model community of Black people who understand the critical role food plays in defining culture."
Yemi Amu, founder and Executive Director of Oko Farms, also found solace in the Black Food Folks Community during quarantine. Amu offers, “as a Black farmer in NYC, I often feel like I exist in isolation. Clay and Colleen made me feel seen by giving me a platform to talk about my work. I am now part of a supportive and uplifting community."
Black Food Folks' growth quadrupled within four months of its launch during the heightened tension and divisiveness of the summer of 2020 and a sobering American conscience of too many senseless murders of unarmed Black bodies. This powerful programming was right on time, resonating with viewers and the industry.
The Black Food Folks platform became a space for storytelling and connection in a way that had major brands taking notice and offering community investment. Discover was the first to partner promoting their small business grant initiative and awarding $25,000 grants to small independent restaurants. Talenti gave Black Food Folks seed money to offer ten $5,000 micro-grants to organizations doing important community-based work. Rozier and Amu were both recipients of grants and offer that the funds made a huge impact on the future of their work.
Moving Forward and Outward
With thoughts of growing Black Food Folks beyond the pandemic and into other forms of media, Colleen and Clay have welcomed Amber Mayfield, CEO and executive editor of While Entertaining Magazine, as part of the team. “The Black Food Folks community has been an awesome gateway to build relationships with like-minded food professionals. As a recipient of their 2020 Talenti grant, BFF has also helped me bring my annual food magazine to print, adding us to the list of the few Black-owned food magazines available in print. Launching the magazine was an entirely self-funded endeavor until I was awarded this grant, so I’m very grateful and excited to have BFF in my corner as I continue to grow.”
Black Food Folks' next step is in the world of podcasting with their limited series "Black Desserts" launching March 11, 2020. Follow Black Food Folks on Instagram for all of the latest news and to be a part of the new era of storytelling.