Posts tagged with "Bed-Stuy"

Kia Damon illustration by Heather Skovlund for 360 Magazine

Chef Kia Damon: Culinary Compassion In The Kitchen

By: Emily Bunn

This Women’s History Month, 360 Magazine sat down with Chef Kia Damon. Kia is the founder of Kia Feeds The People (KFTTP) and is a cofounder of Auxilio, both of which are non-profits aimed at combating food apartheid. We dished with Kia on how she discovered her passion for cooking, pathways towards increased Black and QTPOC representation in the culinary industry, and her upcoming video release with EFFEN Vodka and Queer Foods, which can be viewed here.

When did you first begin cooking? When did you realize you wanted to pursue it professionally?

“I started cooking in my early preteens. I have younger brothers as well, so once we were too old for day care, I had to step up as the older sibling to make sure we ate, especially more so during the summertime because I have working parents. But, it wasn’t until some years later when I started cooking independently for my own health reasons that I truly saw my strengths in cooking and realized that cooking professionally wasn’t a world that was so far away for me, that it was actually extremely attainable and extremely real. So I took the plunge, and to this day some of my family’s still very surprised, because I was definitely burning pots of rice, and they were like ‘this girl has no talents for the kitchen.’ Now I’m cooking and they still can’t believe it.”

We all know foods brings communities together. Are there any experiences you’ve had with community members through Kia Feeds The People that have stuck with you?

Yes! Honestly, the most connective part was before I even started cooking with KFTTP people when I was looking for guidance from a lot of my friends in the cooking community. Because KFTTP was birthed in a really tumultuous time, I felt like I couldn’t quite gather my thoughts and my feelings. I just felt so emotionally charged and stunted that I felt like I couldn’t even work or think or move because I felt so emotional about everything. But being able to lean into my friends and my chosen family who see me for who I am, who know me intimately and know my heart, they were able to guide me to where I am now and toward my mission for KFTTP. I’m super grateful. These are people that I’ve been able to cook with before, these are people that I’ve literally eaten with before–we’ve shared food out of deli containers at 3am–I’m very grateful for them. And I definitely could not have got to this place without them.”

Are you looking to expand KFTPP outside of Brooklyn, or just focus on this specific community?

“Because I am a Sagittarius, I definitely am looking to expand and looking to grow. I definitely have to make sure I build and flesh KFTTP out as much as possible in Brooklyn before I start thinking about moving other places. But I do have visions, not necessarily to just expand Kia Feeds The People, but to collaborate with other mutual aid organizations and non-profits that already exist in other cities, so that I can support them and [they] have more coverage where they are. I’m not the only one who’s doing this kind of work and it is definitely a collaborative, lifelong mission, so I want to lend hands to the people who are already in this game.”

What do you think is the biggest obstacle facing overcoming food apartheid?

Personally I think the biggest obstacle is still convincing people that it exists, because we live in such a individualistic world. If something doesn’t affect the next person, then they’re more likely to ignore it, you know. That’s why I think COVID really shook things up, because a lot of us were collectively put on our butts. you know. We’re like “whoa, wait a minute, is this one thing that is really proactively affecting us.” But regarding food apartheid, a lot of people are still familiar with it in terms of a “food desert.” Food desert is a word that’s been used for many years to describe this situation, and a “desert” implies that it is natural, because the world naturally created deserts. When you apply “food desert” to that idea, it implies that this place without food, this place without access to meals, is natural and that’s just the way that it’s supposed to be. But it’s completely unnatural, it’s completely systematic, and [after recognizing that] then we can start looking at it as something that is created by is created by systems. Then, we can put some realness to it and find how all of us are truly affected by them. So I think right now, it’s making sure people know what food apartheid is, and that it actually exists.”

Do you have a favorite meal or cocktail to prepare when you’re bringing family or friends together?

“My favorite meal is red beans and rice. I love a good pot of Louisiana-style red beans and rice, because honestly that–with some corn bread on top and so hot sauce– that really is the whole meal. You think you would need something else on the side but that’s really it. It’s so fulfilling, it’s so delicious, and I definitely try to bring it out when I get to be with my friends and family.”

The culinary world is a male-dominated industry. How can the culinary industry work to become more diverse, and have more Black, QTPOC chefs?

“I think it’s a starts with actually investing in the lives and careers of these black/brown/trans/ LGBTQ chefs because they exist. I know they exist because they’re my friends. And what happens is that maybe they’re put in positions of leadership or maybe not, but they’re they’re not given the same care, support or investment in their skills and education and their needs. You could put someone in a line chef position or position of leadership or whatever, but if there’s no follow through to make sure that they have what they need to be supported in those positions, they’re usually set up for failure, or set up to be harmed in some way. Or maybe a small business that’s LGBTQ or Black has a good profile, [but they may not be] getting access to grants or money. You have to have the follow through. It’s not that we don’t exist, it’s that we’re not properly supported when we are put at the forefront. That’s when it gets tricky and that’s when we’re left open to harm and failure.”

What are you most excited about regarding this video release with Queer Foods and EFFEN Vodka?

“I’m very excited for mom to see it first of all, I love my mommy and she is my number one fan. And she’s a Gemini, so I’m always looking for her approval. But I’m also excited to get to Kia Feeds The People and Queer Stories in front of the world. I feel like we can’t tell enough queer stories, there’s always someone’s story out there. Even though there’s this myth out there that there’s already enough representation, or that maybe it’s too much to keep talking about queer people, that’s actually far from the truth. I’m proud and honored that EFFEN Vodka wants to support what I’m doing and wants to get my story out there. My story is the story of a lot of other Black and brown and trans people’s stories, and it also feels good to partner with someone who sees me and wants to invest in my story and invest in supporting other diverse artists, both in their representation and practice. It just feels good to be seen, and I’m excited for everyone else to see me and to be seen. Just look! Everyone just look! I want everyone to look and feel pride in who we are.”

How can readers donate to Kia Feeds The People?

“You can head to my GoFundMe if you’re not in the city, or if you’re in Brooklyn you can come to a pop up. Please donate to my GoFundMe, I have it on my Instagram page. Share it with your friends, let them know what’s up. Or if you are in Bed-Stuy, you can find me at a pop-up– I have a few coming up in April, so I’m going to be all over the place. Come get some food or throw some money, either way I’ll be very grateful.”

To learn more about Kia, visit her website.

Kia’s EFFEN Rosé Vodka Grapefruit Cocktail

Ingredients: 

  • 2 parts EFFEN Rosé vodka
  • 1 oz of lime juice
  • ½ oz of cane syrup
  • 2 or 3 parts grapefruit juice

Mix the grapefruit juice, lime juice, simple syrup, EFFEN Rosé vodka and a spoonful of ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir and taste. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with grapefruit, and thyme. Drink responsibly + enjoy!

Kia’s Gumbo Recipe 

Ingredients

  • 8 oz andouille sausage
  • 1lb Boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 large yellow onions, diced
  • 4 stalks of celery, diced
  • 2 green bell peppers, diced
  • 2 cups sliced okra, fresh or frozen
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup of oil
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 4 tbsp Creole seasoning
  • 1 tbsp of fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp Smoked paprika
  • ½ tbsp Ground sage
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Hot sauce to taste
  • Black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh parsley

Directions

  • Season the chicken thighs with 2 tablespoons of creole seasoning, salt and pepper. Season well on both sides. Heat a skillet or cast iron to medium heat with enough oil to cover the bottom. When the pan is hot, sear the chicken in batches. Brown the chicken on both sides and set aside. The chicken does not have to be cooked through just yet.
  • In a large pot add the oil and heat to a medium high heat. Add the flour and whisk until it begins to cook. Lower the heat to medium low. Keep whisking the roux over a controlled and steady heat until the flour begins to darken into a deep brown. This takes about 30 minutes, so pace yourself.
  • Turn the heat down on the roux and add in your onion, bell pepper and celery. Stir into the roux, season with a few pinches of salt and sauté until fragrant and translucent. Add in your minced garlic and fresh thyme. Stir for another 2 minutes. Slowly pour in the chicken stock while whisking the roux. Do this part slowly because the roux will begin to thicken. Take your time and continue pouring in the stock until it’s completely incorporated.
  • Bring the pot to a boil, meanwhile slice the sausage in ¼ inch rounds on a slight bias. When the pot begins to boil, reduce to a simmer and add the chicken and sausage. Let the gumbo cook on low for an hour. You want time for the flour taste to cook out.
  • After an hour, add the remaining two tablespoons of creole seasoning, smoked paprika, ground sage and Worcestershire sauce to the pot. Stir and add your sliced okra. Cook for another 10 minutes, add salt and pepper and hot sauce to taste then serve with rice and chopped parsley.
  • Enjoy!
Kia's EFFEN Rosé Vodka Grapefruit Cocktail Photo credit: Solène Michel  Recipe credit: Kia Damon, Kia Feeds The People for use by 360 Magazine

Photo credit: Solène Michel Recipe credit: Kia Damon, Kia Feeds The People

Kia Damon image shot by Elina Street for EFFEN Vodka and Queer Foods for use by 360 Magazine

Photo Credit: Solène Michel 

Gabrielle Marchan illustrates Dianne Morales for 360 MAGAZINE

Dianne Morales

As of late, one of our team members had the opportunity to sit down with New York City mayoral candidate Dianne Morales for an interview. After eight years under Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City will see someone new in the position in 2021, and Morales, a member of the Democratic Party, is jumping at the opportunity.

360: What are the major points of inspiration throughout your life, so far, that have led you to where you are today?

Morales: At my core is a commitment to community, and I learned community at home. I am the youngest of three girls and the daughter of Puerto Rican parents. My mother, a secretary for the Leather Workers’ Union, and my father, a building manager on the waterfront, created a working-class life for us in Bed-Stuy. But our home was not just for me and my sisters. My grandmother, Mami, lived with us my whole childhood. In fact, she and I shared a bed until the day that I left home for college. Our home was a resting place, a layover, a transition point for whoever needed it. There was always someone new sleeping on the couch or joining us at the dinner table. Whether they had just arrived from Puerto Rico, were in between jobs, had just returned from the military or from being incarcerated, there were always other people staying with us while they “got back on their feet.” My parents opened their arms and their front door to whoever needed it. I never questioned this way of life. I was taught, “If you have, then you provide.” We took care of each other. I saw, firsthand, the opportunity created when we each take responsibility, not just for ourselves, but for our neighbors and for our communities. This belief has spurred me on through 30 years in the public sector, as an educator, a foster care worker and a leader of nonprofits.

As I established my own home in Bed-Stuy as a single mom, my children and I recreated the dynamic my parents had built. We always have a few extra people living in our home – whom we often refer to as our “chosen family.” These extended family members have filled my home with love and reciprocal support. In a twist of fate, since the pandemic hit, I have shared my home with my parents and my children. I envision a New York City where we take care of each other, where everyone is welcome to the dinner table, where neighbors provide more support than extra sugar and all of us have a warm place to rest our heads. Although NYC is vast with diversity, we are all inextricably bound together and are only as strong as our most vulnerable link.

360: How can a mayor, as opposed to any other civic official, lead unique positive changes for equity?

Morales: Over the past several months there is a mantra I have been repeating consistently: a budget is a reflection of our values. The mayor has executive power over what gets funded in the city and by how much. Funding for services that contribute to true public safety (access to housing, medical/mental healthcare, economic stability, job training, education) will provide access and opportunity to those who have historically been left behind by our elected officials. Line by line, the budget reveals the values of a city and government. The NYC budget passed in June was a failure. It failed the residents of NYC, who have been raising their voices in protest and demanding a divestment from law enforcement since May 29. It failed those whose lives have been lost at the hands of the NYPD. It failed communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by violence and brutality.

The budget highlights the need for NYC leadership to put New Yorkers first by investing in communities. The NYC Mayor also has the ability to work to desegregate public schools and impact the quality of education provided to over 1.1 million students, many of whom are students of color living in poverty. This alters the course of a student’s life and provides an entry point to economic mobility and a true career trajectory. New Yorkers deserve a bold, transformational leader who is unapologetically committed to prioritizing justice in the budget’s bottom line. I fundamentally believe that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. Our city needs a mayor that is in tune with her people and provides a vision for and direction for what is possible.

360: What are some of the most pressing or urgent issues that need attention within New York City, and how would you address them?

Morales: New York’s problems all stem from structural oppression by Race, Gender and Class, so our solutions must go deeper, all the way to the root causes. Too many New Yorkers are living in a time of scarcity, and that’s been going on since long before the virus hit. The are working two jobs, just barely surviving and always one misfortune away from losing everything. Instead of this “Scarcity Economy,” we need a “Solidarity Economy,” and that requires bold action. First, transforming public safety in the city by providing access to the same critical resources found in wealthy communities will be a critical step toward creating the long-term change we need for all to live in dignity. True public safety includes ensuring that every New Yorker has access to “life essentials,” like quality transportation, affordable housing, excellent and equal education and human-centered healthcare. All New Yorkers deserve access to these fundamental resources in order to live in dignity, and it is the necessary floor needed to break through glass ceilings.

Next, we must enhance and overhaul vital infrastructure requiring multi-part, creative solutions that address the deeper issues embedded in the fabric of NYC. To break the racist cycle of poverty that divides our city into the “haves” and the “have-nots,” we will establish a guaranteed minimum income. We will push for universal healthcare and eliminate inequities in the health system faced by women, and especially women of color. We will work to address the persistent segregation of our schools and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by replacing school safety officers with trained mental health professionals. The driving force behind all policy initiatives is the experiences, needs and voices of women of color. Particularly, Black women. As the Combahee River Collective wisely wrote in its 1977 statement, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” We know that if New York does right by Black women, the entire city will be better for it.

360: How can you use your personal experiences with serving as a single mother and observing the many other challenges that face New York City residents to enact policy reform?

Morales: So many of New York’s problems have impacted me directly, and so much of who I am and what I know comes from being a mom. My greatest joy is being the mother of my two children, Ben and Gabby. They constantly push me, teach me and nourish me. As a single parent, I share experiences with hundreds of thousands of other New Yorkers. A 2018 study found that single-parent households are the second largest household type in New York City. I navigated New York City’s systems – economic, health and education – on my own. I balanced a budget for my family each month, figuring out how to make it work. My greatest challenge was parenting my children through the NYC education system. The rigid and unforgiving education that my children received did not allow any space for their learning differences. They did not see themselves in the white-centric curriculum and we struggled to find support during their developmental years. Advocating for my children was a full-time job on top of my paying-full-time-job. Again and again I have stood with parents for a more equitable and life-affirming education for our kids. It is with this same community spirit of coalition building, advocacy and bettering of our social safety nets that I will push for policies that support all types of families in NYC.

360: What is one of the most significant components of your background or experiential knowledge that separates you from any other candidate?

Morales: I am, in so many ways, the average New Yorker. I was born and bred in Bed-Stuy. I am an Afro Latina single-mom of two children who survived the New York City public school system. I am a first generation college graduate who came back home to my city after school. I am a woman of color who discovered that I was not being paid the same as my white male counterparts. I’ve watched my neighborhood change, I’ve seen Starbucks replace the corner bodega, and I have spent my weekends marching side by side – 6 feet apart – with my fellow New Yorkers demanding justice for those killed at the hands of a racist policing system. Because I am the average New Yorker, my voice reflects the voices of thousands of others. We share our lived experiences, frustrations and joys. I love New York City because I see our full potential for all of us.

360: How does your previous extensive work with social service nonprofits inform your motivations and goals to serve as Mayor?

Morales: For decades, I worked within the community to address structural inequities burdening communities of color. I worked alongside those experiencing the symptoms of our broken system most acutely – poverty, lack of access to education, homelessness and mental health services. I witnessed firsthand the day-to-day struggles of New Yorkers that are perpetuated by cycles of poverty and oppression. I worked from the ground, up and from the inside, out. But as I hammered away, I recognized these structural and institutional barriers, and began to ask, “So how do we burn them down?” It felt as though I was only tinkering around the edges of the problem and providing Band-Aid solutions to deep, deep wounds. The core, perpetuating issues were centralized and foundational. I realized that if I want to create lasting, effective change, I must address these systemic and political problems at the root. As Mayor, I would carry with me the voices of those I have served.

360: In outlining your points of action and reform for New York City, how does the COVID-19 pandemic affect any of these potential strides for change?

Morales: As we know, COVID-19 is a catastrophe that illuminates all of the cracks and splinters in our broken systems. At first, many claimed the COVID-19 was a “great equalizer,” affecting all people, regardless of race, class or gender. Instead COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people of color and low-income communities. This is not a coincidence or personal failing, but rather the direct result of racist systems, putting structural oppression in stark relief. While some New Yorkers are able to escape crowded areas, arm themselves with personal protective equipment and work remotely, others, namely people of color, are on the front lines providing essential services to our city.

As COVID-19 has had devastating consequences that will leave a lasting impact for years to come, it has also provided us with a unique moment. As we saw after the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, being homebound and isolated forces us to pay attention. We have paused. We have slowed down. With fewer distractions and a center of focus, folks all across the country have had the veil lifted. People are noticing the interconnected webs of oppression I have lived with and that I have been fighting to dismantle my entire life. In this moment, we need leaders in office who are of, by and for the movement for social change. There is a momentum and hunger for justice that can no longer be ignored. As we overcome the challenge of the disease, I will never let the city forget who is truly essential. Together we will create a world in which front-line workers are truly valued as indispensable. A world where we accompany our applause and platitudes with a livable wage, unquestionable dignity and real community power.

360: What are some of the most rewarding takeaways you have gained from leading several momentous organizations?

Morales: I’ve learned firsthand about the barriers and challenges that people have to overcome in order to gain access to opportunities that are alleged to be available to everyone. I also have watched as community members care for one another to bridge the gaps in access to those opportunities. This is testament to the power of our communities to be true partners in determining the solutions they face when given the resources to do so. Finally, I have been able to bear witness to what is possible when people finally gain access and opportunity and how that has the potential to change the trajectory of people’s lives and transform families and communities.

360: Regarding the national and global movement, Black Lives Matter, how will you utilize your unique identity to empower minorities in the City of New York?

Morales: Like many people of color, I have lived years of my life trying not to take up space. I have seen the ways that my identities – my Blackness, my Latina roots, my politics, my womanhood – make people, namely white people, uncomfortable. In these spaces I would constantly ask myself, “Do I seem too opinionated, too articulate, too aggressive?” I would contort and deflate myself to fit into tight corners and small boxes. I would shrink myself so that others could feel big. When making the decision to run for Mayor of NYC, I decided it was important for me to run as my full, unadulterated, unapologetic, multi-hyphenated self. There would be no more shrinking, questioning or self-doubt. I recognize that by the very nature of stepping into this space, I am opening up a path of possibility. As the first Afro-Latina running for mayor of New York City, I recognize the awesome responsibility I hold. I know that when I speak, unfairly or not, I am representing all Afro-Latina women. Missteps become mass stereotypes. Accolades become communal achievements.

This is both beautiful and deeply terrifying. But in moments of fear, I am guided by a greater purpose to bring with me those whom have been devalued and made to feel small, as I have been; to elevate the voices of those with shared experiences and claim our rightful place in democracy and representation in leadership. People like me, individuals and communities of color, women of color, we must be at the forefront of our politics and policies. I am deeply committed to divesting from racist systems and investing in Black and Brown communities. I am committed to reimagining public safety on our streets and in our schools. I am committed to shifting wealth opportunities to those who have been historically marginalized. I am committed to redressing and repairing the wounds of oppression that scar our city. I am in this race to stand taller in the face of a world that tells me to shrink. I am here to tell them that Black lives are beloved. We matter today and every day forward.

360: To all of the NYC citizens following your efforts to better numerous communities, what are some of the best ways individuals can support your campaign?

Morales: The best way to help me is to join the campaign with a small contribution. I am not a career politician, and unlike other candidates, I have not spent decades cultivating a war chest of people, networks and resources to kickstart my run for mayor. I want to be responsive to the people, not the special interests.. My campaign was born out of my home in Bed-Stuy, out of conversations with my neighbors, friends and colleagues. Our campaign is 100% powered by the people, not the 1%. We are an intersectional coalition of Black and Brown, Latinx, LGBTQIA and working class New Yorkers. We are backed by the people being hit the hardest at this moment in time. I am so incredibly humbled that in the middle of a pandemic, without employment, people are finding a way to donate to our campaign. I know what is at stake and the choices they have had to make to do so. If donating to our campaign is not possible for you during this financially uncertain time, we understand. Visit my website, dianne.nyc, for information and volunteer opportunities. Spread our mission to your fellow New Yorkers. Reach out to join our team. Remember me in November 2021.

To learn more about Dianne Morales, you can click right here. To learn more about her stances and solutions, you can click right here. To support Morales through donations, you can click right here. You can also support her on Twitter and Instagram.