Last week thousands of Black New Yorkers kicked off their Kwanzaa celebration with a fast-growing community event called Kwanzaa Crawl. Now what exactly is Kwanzaa Crawl you may ask? Take what you know about your traditional bar/pub crawl and apply the beautiful Kwanzaa principles. Traditionally, the celebration of Kwanzaa asks us to evoke and focus on 7 principles (Nguzo Saba) throughout the Black American commonwealth for 7 days(Umoja: Unity, Kujichagulia: self-determination, Ujima: collective work and responsibility, Ujamaa: cooperative economics, Nia:purpose, Kuumba: creativity, Imani: faith), from December 26th through January 1st.
A tradition African Americans have been celebrating since the late 1960’s by lighting the seven candles in the kinara for each day, partaking in a feast, gift-giving, dancing, and musical ceremonies. But in 2016, a little over a half century later, two sisters are asking members of the black community to add to the celebration by getting into the community and put their money where their mouth is, literally. Meet Kwanzaa Crawl.
Co-founders, Kerry Coddet and Krystal Stark, started this one-day celebration to truly effect change in the black community. As we all have existed in the brutal climate of black social justice over the last decade, Coddet and Stark pledged and planned to change the landscape of black financial influence as answer to community cries. All to often we tweet, re-gram, repost statements of rebuilding and strengthening our community when tragedy hits in our communities. Yet, there’s disconnect with means to the end resolution. Powerfully, these brave queens envisioned and executed an experiential event to do just that. “Kwanzaa Crawl gets black people to support each other and stimulates our local economy by intentionally circulating the black dollar,” Coddet told MadameNoire. Their goal is simple, to keep black businesses open as long as possible in a city that is getting a rapid facelift in the midst of gentrification.
Borough locals nearly doubled the event size this year as the event grew from 2,800 people to almost 5,000 between both Brooklyn and Harlem. Coddet and Stark celebrate with over 20 bars/ restaurants with last year’s profit of a little over $100k. This year they hope to rival there past years success. Brooklyn Beso Owner, Donna Drakes describes her first 5 years of her 10-year-owned business as feeling like “what the hell did I do?” To now, in the last five years she explains, “I feel a part of a community, like there is a need for me”.
The Crawl itself takes place at two different borough locations. There is a Harlem location and a Brooklyn location. Crawlers can opt for teams in either borough or purchase an all access pass (allowing them to switch boroughs and teams). Each borough has a set number of teams. The teams have team leaders and a max of around 60 crawlers. Bushwick native and team leader for team four, LaQuasha Wright recalls, “My first time participating in the crawl, in 2016, was new to me. I didn’t even know they had team leaders because I traveled to each bar with my group of friends. When the team leader showed up I asked him what was the process to be come one he told me and that’s when I reached out to Kerry (the coordinator) and it’s been history since.”
The teams follow a map around their borough with other teams and hit a minimum of four bars from 3pm -11pm. The crawl starts off on the first day of Kwanzaa;Umoja. How fitting as Umoja is the principle for unity in the community, as its founders have strategically crafted this day to bring about the spirit of unity from the crawlers, business owners and community.
Kings Beer Hall Owner Marquis Williams, a graduate of Yale and The University of Michigan gave his personal experience of unity among fellow black/ minority owned businesses:
“Overall, I feel a sense of unity with several other businesses regardless of the type of ownership just because it can be tough to run a small business in NYC and it makes sense to help each other survive and prosper. However, I do have a special unity with several other black-owned businesses of bar/restaurants like The Slope Lounge or BK9 in Brooklyn or 67 Orange Street in Harlem. That entails more than just supporting each others’ businesses, but also giving advice on everything from construction/repairs to recommended vendors to use, helping with cross marketing, and even providing each other with equipment or supplies.”
As the owner of what is now being called,” Brooklyn’s living room”, offering large group and a nice size get-together space for all, Marquis remembers the time when he was tired of making money for other major conglomerate businesses. Knowing he could have something successful on his own and began his entrepreneurial food/service journey back in 2009, and The Kings Beer hall is one of his many business ventures in Brooklyn.
Catch the Kwanzaa spirit while there is still time to celebrate. Ellie, a craweler at Bed-Vyne Brew was overjoyed with a fellowship sprit to celebrate with fellow event goers. “ I would like to implement Kwanzaa in my own home and we can still celebrate Christmas. I came on this crawl because I support anything that brings black people together and inspires unity”, says Ellie. Proving that no matter where you are from, where your people are from, or whether or not you celebrate or fully understand the Kwanzaa holiday, unity in the community is something celebrate and participate in. If you support, belong to, or love the beautiful melanin movement Kwanzaa crawl tickets should definitely be on your Christmas list in 2019.