Social Policy

Kujichagulia is the Main Ingredient, Kwanzaa Day 2 at River Bistro in Detroit

Kujichagulia (koo-jee-chah-goo-LEE-ah) or Self- Determination

This article is a special one for me because when we see family members accomplishing their dreams, it bring us closer to our own. It gives validity to those fantasies that we sometimes feel are too far away. I’ve never walked into a restaurant owned by a family member, in Seattle it’s even more difficult to come across a Black owned restaurant to enjoy. I wrote about the experience eating at one on my birthday this past year but coming back home gives me the opportunity to see more black owned business and their inspiring owners.
On the second day of celebration of Kwanzaa the person who lights the candles, the black one in the center and the left most red one, goes through the same process of doing so while sharing a piece on the theme for the day, Kujichagulia (koo-jee-chah-goo-LEE-ah) or Self- Determination. After which the unity cup is shared between the members of the family before the candles are put out. The importance of focusing on self determination is to recognize again our community’s lack thereof as a whole within the dominate culture. Self determination is the free choice of one’s own status (economically, politically, financially, socially, etc.) without external compulsion or outside influence. In contrast, the entirety of the Black experience in the United states has been spent without much if any use of self-determination. Our decision to be here was not made with our own influence and even today the majority communities in which we reside are decided with little to no influence of our own.
Its important that we focus on strengthening our self-determination, activating it where necessary. Historically self determination has been the cause of war for nations looking to govern themselves. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson helped encourage self-determination of the European nations during WW1, imagine if the same vigor was taken with African nations. Flint’s water crisis continuing for over three years is a perfect illustration of the effects of a lack of community self-determination. With Self-determination we as a community would be able to find a stable solution to this lack of clean drinking and cleaning water, even with the government’s refusal to address the issue. We see these same types of misfortunate events occur throughout our communities due to lack of self determination.
On this day I challenge us to follow through the theme of kujichagulia by focusing on supporting Black owned business. This is easier to do in metropolitan areas like Detroit, a population where there are more Blacks present. I challenge you to look for a Black owned shop or restaurant to enjoy rather than going to the usual and I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Fortunately my father is always excited to share family success with me. In the spirit of Kujichagulia I went out for the evening to eat with my younger sister and father at a family operated Black owned restaurant in Detroit, River Bistro in Detroit by Chef Max Hardy.
The Caribbean cuisine at River Bistro Detroit is creative and funky. #phunkyoburger is the hashtag of the restaurant serving the metro Detroit area through catering, delivery and in-restaurant seating. There’s also a private area in the back to reserve for larger group events. The outer architecture of the building is elegant yet down to earth. During the sunny seasons wicker seating are right outside of the large window that give passerby an opportunity to peek into the bistro. “Caribbean and Soul” read the awning right above the window, the two words go hand in hand, and soul bled off of the menu. The menu items were cleverly organized, beginning with the “Afternoon Affair” section with the Bistro Burger, Bistro Salad, Coconut & Curry Shrimp Scampi. Afternoon Affairs could turn into main entrees as the menu went on to, “My Main Thang” which included dishes like the Bistro Burger and Jerk Ribs with sides. Under “Side Chic” patrons could select side dishes to accompany their meals like Cilantro Rice, Cottage Fries and Fried Brussels with Bacon. After enjoying the main meal Hardy provided the “Walk of Shame” with ice creams, cheese cakes and Banana & White Chocolate Bread pudding. It was all the perfect evening out, for those who come to dine earlier in the morning or have a taste for breakfast there was the “Rendezvous” menu. The menu concludes with “Wet Your Whistle”, tempting drinks like Raspberry Lemonade, Mango Lemonade and Pomegranate Tea. The restaurant is open every day of the week for us to enjoy. In addition to the food another intoxicating aspect of the restaurant was the music selection. It was smooth and soulful ranging from Jill Scott to India Arie and Eryka Badu. My father and I ordered two dishes, because I’m a shrimp fanatic I had to try the coconut and curry shrimp scampi with cilantro rice. My father ordered the maple and garlic salmon with Cilantro Rice and Sautéed Spinach and the maple sauce over the salmon was delicious.
Max’s story is inspiring to me and perfect example of self-determination, not only because he is a Black business owner but because he was able to use the knowledge that he accumulated while working out of state, to come back and serve the community he’s from. Max is an entrepreneur and Philanthropist. He had been working in New York as a celebrity chef for 20 years, he placed runner up in the Food Network’s Chopped, started a catering company in Miami and authored a cookbook featuring a variety of coffee recipes.
The choice to leave home in order to cultivate new ideas and experiences is a hard one, leaving family and the familiar is challenging especially as a young Black person from a Black area. In some cases you can be seen in negative light by those you care about all while fighting against the overt and covert effects of racism that come with living in a white dominated society. It takes a large amount of self determination to decide to go against the grain and follow a route that no one in the family has taken. Its our responsibility as those with that level of determination to do so, to create avenues that didn’t exist prior to us so that they’ll exist for those who come after us. Seeing the path that Max took, dedicating decades of his life traveling across the country, made the route I’m taking through Washington state more feasible in my eyes. Thank you Max!
visit River Bistro online at:
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About Amani Sawari

I am a University of Washington alum, Class of 2016. I graduated with my Bachelors Degree in two majors: Media and Communications AND Law, Economics and Public Policy. It's a mouthful but it illustrates how I have a hard time doing only one 'thing'. I am a writer, poet, singer, songwriter and much more. I enjoy sharing my experiences and perspectives with those who are interested and I am a proud member of the black diaspora!
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