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In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson and his Association for the Study of Negro Life and History celebrated Negro History Week during the second week of February, because it included both the day Frederick Douglass observed as his birthday and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. In 1970, students at Kent State University honored Black History Month in February; in 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized it.
Now there’s Chicago BLACK Restaurant Week, created in the spirit of Woodson to support and celebrate Black-owned restaurants in the Chicago area. In its eighth year, the event is organized around another major figure in Black history: Michael Jordan. Because the legendary athlete’s number was 23, this year is the “Jordan Year.” In his honor, all the deals participating restaurants are offering have a price of some amount of dollars and 23 cents.
“The idea came from my desire to celebrate my community, but in a way that made me feel like it was truly something that would provide a service as well!” Lauran Smith, the founder of Chicago BLACK Restaurant Week, said in an email interview.
Like Chicago Restaurant Week, which is organized by Chicago’s tourism bureau and takes place in January, Chicago BLACK Restaurant Week helps bring business to restaurants during the slow winter, with each offering special menus and deals from February 12 through 26. Some go even further to celebrate: the Tavern on LaGrange in west suburban Countryside is planning an event in honor of Jordan as well as one organized around The Wiz, according to Smith.
Among other participating restaurants are the new 1308 Chicago near Goose Island; Auburn Park’s fried shrimp stalwart Haire’s Gulf Shrimp; the new gluten-free Southern CheSa’s Bistro & Bar in Avondale; community favorite Hidden Manna Café in south suburban Matteson; The Black Vegan in Little Village; and Lincoln Square’s Luella’s Southern Kitchen, which also just celebrated its eighth anniversary.
“Black people as a whole have had to ‘wait’ to do any and everything over the course of American history, and since I don't have to ‘wait’ for permission, I felt compelled to spotlight Black food/beverage/dessert businesses,” writes Smith. “That, and we have really, REALLY good food—everyone should have the opportunity to taste!”
Smith herself is a Social Emotional Learning Dean at a West Side school, but loves food and the community it can inspire. Over the course of February, she will host Instagram Live demonstrations and conversations on Chicago BLACK Restaurant Week’s Instagram, including a cocktail class and a discussion with the founder of Memphis Black Restaurant Week. (Smith is a native of Memphis.)
“Since I am truly a foodie at heart and a person who loves my community, I thought to marry food and community,” Smith writes. You might run into her at any of the restaurants over the next couple weeks: she says that, “they are all my favorites!”