This Ain’t SantaCon Or Your Run-Of-The-Mill Bar Hop. This Is Kwanzaa Crawl.
In the fall of 2016, two Black women set to embark upon a yearly business venture that would revamp the course of Black entrepreneurship in New York City.
Utterly fatigued and discombobulated by the numerous police shootings, state-sanctioned beatings and unjust rulings against Black communities everywhere, sisters Krystal Stark and Kerry Coddett, set an impactful mission.
“We started a group called Operation Mobilize. We put the smartest people we knew in a room together and were like, what can we do to improve the condition of Black people in America?” Coddett said. “And basically what we realized is that Black people needed economic power and political power.”
They turned to Kwanzaa, a holiday celebration created by activist Mulana Karenga, which celebrates seven principles over a week-long period.
As business women who understand the power of the almighty dollar, (Coddett is a comedian, while Stark serves as her manager and runs a talent management company), they decided to hold the crawl in the middle of Bedford Stuyvesant, one of the oldest predominantly Black neighborhoods in New York City. Each dollar spent by participants would help reinforce Black entrepreneurship in a neighborhood that is slowly succumbing to the forces of gentrification.
And thus Kwanzaa Crawl was born. Flyers were made, tickets were sold, and what transpired was a glorious gathering–something akin to the wonderful displays of Blackness surrounding the release of Marvel’s Black Panther, earlier this year. For the past two years, thousands of Kwanzaa Crawlers gather on December 26, divided into multiple teams to snake through the streets of New York.
Kwanzaa Crawl attendees show up every year in a variety of fashion. Whether they are dressed casual in a fitted and hoodie, or decked out in kente pattern, participants are invited to unabashedly bask in #Blackgirlmagic and #Blackboyjoy under the protection of a safe space.
In 2017, Coddett and Stark added a second course in historic Harlem, and plan to do so again this year. Crawlers will visit over 28 bars in Bed-Stuy and Harlem over the course of the day. This year, a portion of the proceeds will go to BarberShop Books, a community effort which provides reading spaces in Barbershops for young boys, ages 4-8.
“We’ve always been entrepreneurs,” said Stark. “This is our latest endeavor. It’s about relishing the success but also taking the feedback and figuring out the best way to make it better each year.”
Both Coddett and Kerry believe in building a bridge of trust, not only through business owners and attendees, but by incorporating city officials. Founders enlisted the endorsement of Letitia James, the first African-American to be elected New York state Attorney General. The founders also keep an open line of communication with local law enforcement in order to keep the event safe.
“Last year we bought in collectively $100,000 dollars in one day. That’s Black power. That’s something that’s tangible, that’s measurable, that we can see,” said Coddett. “As Kwanzaa Crawl grows, as we start the movement of buying Black and supporting Black, how can we pool our money and our resources and what does it look like for us when we keep our money in our community?”
But unlike other platforms made for us, by us, Kwanzaa Crawl hopes to remain diligent and impactful in presenting a message of unity and enlightenment. Placing the work and community as the central driving force, and keeping the event small, prevents the movement from falling being co-opted.
“The first thing is being mindful of our scale and not growing too quickly, said Stark. The other thing is with our communication Yes it is a bar crawl, but it’s a bar crawl to support Black businesses,” Stark said.
“You don’t want to become so mainstream that you lose the core and the integrity of the event that you start chasing fame and celebrity,” Coddett said.
“Each year that we do this, we see the impact that it has on the community and just the response that we’re getting and how well-received it is from people in the community and we love to hear that people are coming back,” Stark said.
“What we really hope is that people become more conscious with how we spend our money in the community,” Coddett said. “I just hope that we not only spark the conversation but inspire to sort of chase the vibe when it comes to making Black business a part of your everyday routine. Everything Black. All Back everything!”
Kwanzaa Crawl will take place on December 26, 2018. If you are in the New York area and want to attend, you can purchase tickets here.