“To break bread with someone” is probably the most familiar expression for making friends from peers. In the Bay Area, the modern equivalent is meeting for brunch. Coffee implies agenda. While dinner is reserved for intimates and lovers. But brunch, unrushed and sociable, is a casual stroll, the meal that best says “slow down and chat.”
Which is why when Christina Wilson, Red Hill and Carrie Kholi wanted a way for people in the Bay Area to connect and celebrate Blackness without the pressure of politics, the trio created Hella Black Brunch.
“We wanted opportunity to create a safe and sacred space for people of color and queer people of color,” said Wilson. “We just wanted to get people together to talk about loving and uplifting topics for our community while breaking bread.”
Wilson and her twin sister, Hill, operate Oakland-based catering company The Pleasure Principle. Kholi — who goes by khoLi. — runs the marketing firm Khafra & Company, a “dream incubator investing in community actualization.” At Hella Black Brunch, Wilson and Hill plan a menu, while khoLi. does the organizing and promotion.
The very first brunch was held this year on January 21 at Ethiopian restaurant Enssaro on Grand Avenue in Oakland. The date was no coincidence. Held just after the inauguration of Donald Trump, and the same day as the Women’s March, the first brunch — titled “A Post-Inauguration Mending” — was the direct result of the organizers’ concern for minority voices after the election of 2016.
“Everything had been so traumatizing for people of color in general,” said khoLi. “We were just looking at how people were responding to the election of Trump and asking ‘How do we serve our community better? What is it that we are able to offer? And can we just come together over food while we figure out how we’re going to change the world?’”
Like many Americans, khoLi. is concerned about lack of communication both between and within minorities. But she is also wary of underrepresented groups shutting themselves out from the dialogue. So she wants to set something straight.
“It’s Hella Black Brunch it’s not ‘Black people only’ brunch,” she said. “It’s just hella Black space.”
White Space and Black Space have become popular descriptors in recent years to describe where a member of either demographic might reasonably expect to be given priority. Both can occupy literal space — such as a neighborhood or university — or figurative space — such as culture or justice.
“A lot of my education and work has been in White spaces and because of that I know a lot about White people and White spaces. That’s how it works for people of color,” said khoLi. “When I think about Hella Black Brunch I’m thinking about how do we privilege Black experience?”
The current political environment was created, she feels, not just from a lack of organization within disparate minority groups but also from a lack of communication between them.
“There’s been so much negating of the Black experience that a lot of people feel we need to create these Black-only events,” said khoLi. “And there is real value to separatist practices,” she said. “It’s just not my own personal practice.”
“Here is a moment of not having to center around Whiteness and also to do that without making ourselves the Other as well,” said khoLi. “It’s a very small step in the right direction for me. I am not interested in shutting ourselves off.”
At Hella Black Brunch, brunch-goers can expect to enjoy foods of the African diaspora, prepared by Black caterers, in the home or business of a Black owner. Each brunch is organized around a theme. The last brunch, held in a private residence on April 22, was titled “Resurrection.” As a nod to the Black experience outside the United States, the theme of the upcoming brunch on Saturday, July 29, is “Libertad.” (“Liberation”)
Liberation comes in many forms. It doesn’t have to mean revolutionaries descending from the mountains, or documents and grand declarations.
“We’re looking at people trying to take on liberation in their own way,” said khoLi. “It happens in writing. It happens in actual warfare. Every time we make a small change we’re rethinking what liberation and freedom looks like for us.” As one example, the event page for the upcoming Hella Black Brunch promises a menu “FREE of gluten, dairy and other unnecessary additives that make us, at once, sick and addicted as a people.”
Both khoLi. and Wilson emphasize that Hella Black Brunch is about more than being Black in America. “We’re talking about diasporic Blackness, not just the African-American experience,” said khoLi, who was born in Monrovia, Liberia and grew up in a Liberian community in North Carolina.
“We thought a lot about Haitian cuisine,” said Wilson. Wilson grew up in Chicago, but began her company the Pleasure Principle while living in Barcelona as an event on Meetup.com. (Though it was then called El Principio del Placer.) She was inspired by the concept of supper clubs, where people could pay a small fee for a restaurant-quality meal served in the intimacy of a home.
“I really, really loved the idea of sitting around and building rapport by talking with strangers,” she said. “It was so easy to draw that out of people while sharing a meal or really good wine or a really good cocktail. That was so appealing to me and I just really wanted to bring that concept here in a way that was new.”
After moving to the East Bay, Wilson brought The Pleasure Principle with her to Oakland where her twin sister Red Hill had been living. The pair then teamed up with khoLi. at Khafra to create an event with more intention behind it. That event became Hella Black Brunch.
When we spoke, Wilson was considering making feijoada, a savory stew of Black beans and beef, for the upcoming brunch. “It’s the national dish of Brazil but also very popular in Haiti,” she said. “It’s deep and unctuous and comforting and something that you can fortify with whatever you’d like.”
Caribbean and Afro-Latino cuisine tends to have a lot of improvisation, she explained, with recipes functioning more like guidelines. In this case Wilson would use tri-tip braised over several hours with herbs and aromatic spices, then thickened with coconut milk.
Hella Black Brunch has been very popularly received since their first event in January. khoLi. and Wilson have received requests to bring the event to Los Angeles, Chicago and D.C. And while they may eventually consider doing visits to other cities, right now they would like to keep the focus local with quarterly events in the East Bay.
“We’re not trying to be another thing you have to remember every week of your life,” said khoLi. Past brunches have been very well attended, with roughly 50 brunch-goers each. Which for the organizers is a very manageable number.
“We’re really invested in keeping it inside of people’s homes. We’re not looking to do 150 people conferences. So that 50 people mark is a good intimate number for us,” she said.
As open and excited as Wilson and khoLi. are about the upcoming Hella Black Brunch, there was one piece of information they would not give: the address.
Readers interested in attending will just have to buy a ticket to find out.
The next Hella Black Brunch will be from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 29. $40-$70. Get a ticket at http://hellaBlackbrunch.com. Once purchased, ticket holders will receive an email confirmation with the address of the event.