For the last few months I have thought to myself: how do we cope in times of trauma, stress, and heartache?
More specifically, how do women of color support, encourage, and uplift one another in a time when cyclical tendencies and political tragedies are looming over the black community?
That’s where Black Girls Break Bread comes into the equation. The brain child of three founders, Jessica Davenport-Williams, Jazzy Davenport, and Khadija Warfield, BGBB is a Chicago-based organization that is creating a space for women of color to come together, break bread over a meal, and interact with an intentional discourse and dialogue.
I called Jessica, Jazzy, and Khadija for an interview on a snowy sub-zero temperature day in Chicago to discuss their organization and their quarterly events. They explained their passions, the need for a strong community, and the importance of spreading their message. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
HelloFlo: Let’s start with your backgrounds.
Jessica: I am a native to Chicago. I am a Higher Education Financial Analyst. I currently work for Columbia College Chicago. That’s my profession by day. I am also engaged in the community relating to financial independence and being an advocate of financial literacy.
Jazzy: Hi! I am a high school educator for Chicago Public Schools as well as an adjunct professor for City Colleges of Chicago.
Khadija: I’m a native of Chicago as well. I’m a coordinator for YoungLives Chicago.
HF: On your website, it says that you would like to “liberate black women by offering opportunities for spiritual, educational, and economic transformation.” Can you expand on how BGBB does this specifically?
Jessica: The mission for BGBB, founded by the three of us, is intended to uplift, empower, and inspire the black woman through the creation of safe spaces. We are creating the environment that we feel is lacking in Chicago for black women to come together and break bread, in the literal and spiritual sense, of dining with one another but also pouring into each other with whatever that woman needs at the time. We want to allow a safe space for women to be vulnerable and receive empowerment from the other women who are participating.
HF: You have a relationship to Columbia College Chicago. You recently held an event there. Because of the current political climate, I find your project incredibly important in connecting women, and specifically young women of color. Can you tell me how the students at Columbia received BGBB and the importance of connecting young black women?
Jazzy: I think that the students at Columbia were very receptive to what we are trying to do. I am an alum of Columbia College and I did not have very many professors that were black women or peers that were black women. I was a Sports Journalism major and that major was predominately men. A lot of the students at Columbia are still experiencing the same type of environment and so it was great to bring together women on campus which included faculty and students. There were faculty there that had never interacted with each other, as well as students who had never taken a class with a black professor. They were all able to come together and sit at the table.
HF: Where did the original inspiration for the project begin?
Khadija: Speaking from a biblical perspective, we want to break bread. We pray about coming together and encouraging each other to take the same approach that Jesus took with the disciples when he broke bread. So that’s what we are doing with our ladies. It’s a blessing to be able to sit and break bread with one another and give each other what we need.
Jessica: We are still in the infancy stages of our organization but this is us taking a chance one evening in October. I posted something on Facebook about a sister retreat between Jazzy and I and Khadija commented saying that we should open it up to the public. We all talked and thought, “It would be a great idea to have a dinner with 20 women in a restaurant in Chicago.” I put something on Eventbrite and literally in the first hour, it was sold out. Next thing you know, we were like “We should open it up to 30 women, 40 women…” It was very organic. We wanted to come together and sit and talk and what we realized is that many other women feel the same way. There is a void and not only in this city. It started as a simple post on social media into what has evolved into Black Girls Break Bread.
HF: Why do you think there is that void?
Jessica: Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in America. In my lifetime, it hasn’t changed much. The plight of the black woman has taken different forms but the struggles are the same. There aren’t many spaces that I would consider in this city that are open to that type of engagement for black women and women in color, in general. If you are in different neighborhoods in the city, they are primarily directed towards the residents who live there, who make up that community. As a black woman, we are maneuvering and navigating through many areas and facets in this country. As you mentioned before, given the political climate of this country, people are feeling the divisiveness even more. They just need a space where they can feel safe, open, and vulnerable. As a woman, you wear so many hats. Whether you’re a daughter, a sister, a mother, a wife, or whatever role you serve, that’s pretty much a priority for the woman. You put yourself last. We tell people when they enter the room [for an event] “Leave the title at the door and come in as yourself.” Just be free.
Jazzy: We are there to be a collective support for these women and allow them to process in whatever way that they feel comfortable. It’s a place where women can come without any judgement. We are not rushing the healing process or judging them on how they choose to express themselves but we are there for support.
HF: What types of topics are discussed at these events?
Jazzy: The types of topics depend on what the women in the room would like to discuss. We may prompt them to consider a particular question but ultimately the women in the room guide whatever it is that we discuss at the dinner.
HF: The vendors, the chefs, and the professional people who are at these events are all black women. Was that something that you decided on right away?
Jessica: It was a decision that we made right away when we were determining which venue to rent for us to gather. We wanted to make sure that we were supporting the mission of Black Girls Break Bread, in the spiritual and both literal sense. “Breaking Bread” is slang for sharing money and building on those resources between each other. We wanted to make sure that we are pouring into other people’s businesses and supporting them as business owners and operators. We are very diligent about the selection whether it’s a graphic designer, web developer, a catering company, cinematographers, photographers, printing company’s, etc. We are very thoughtful in those decisions.
HF: What goes into planning each event?
Jessica: We accomplished the first event which was in December. We have monthly events on Columbia’s campus and we have also been contacted by other organizations and institutions as well. The calendar is now filling up. Our March event will be a brunch. Planning is like with any event: you select a venue, you select your menu, your caterer, make sure the space is accommodating, then decor, how should we prompt the discussion, and how do we want the women to experience Black Girls Break Bread. It’s exciting. We enjoy the fulfillment that we are receiving from BGBB.