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Leah Chase: “We Changed The Course of the World over a Bowl of Gumbo”

NEW ORLEANS DATA NEWS WEEKLY — With the passing this week of New Orleans’ Queen of Creole cuisine, Leah Chase, a part of New Orleans has died. It was at her table where the Freedom Riders gathered to break bread after their dangerous journey into the segregated south. It was there where the NAACP planned strategy. She hosted musicians, artists, actors and Presidents. In typical fashion, she scolded President Obama for adding hot sauce to her already-perfectly-seasoned gumbo.

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By Marc H. Morial, President and CEO National Urban League

“I was taught that your job was to make this earth better. I hope my children will carry on. I hope I’ve taught them enough to keep trying to grow, keep trying to make people understand how to enjoy life. Look at all the beautiful things around you, look at the progress. You gotta enjoy that, you gotta appreciate that, and I do.” – Leah Chase

With the passing this week of New Orleans’ Queen of Creole cuisine, Leah Chase, a part of New Orleans has died. It was at her table where the Freedom Riders gathered to break bread after their dangerous journey into the segregated south. It was there where the NAACP planned strategy. She hosted musicians, artists, actors and Presidents. In typical fashion, she scolded President Obama for adding hot sauce to her already-perfectly-seasoned gumbo.

My earliest memories of Mrs. Chase were Friday night outings with my grandparents to her landmark restaurant, Dooky Chase. In the days of Jim Crow, most of the upscale restaurants refused to serve Black patrons, so Dooky Chase quickly became a cultural, social and political center for Black life in New Orleans. When the National Urban League held our conference in New Orleans in 2012, I was proud to hold our Board of Trustees meeting there.

No visit home to New Orleans has ever been complete without a meal at Dooky Chase and a visit to the kitchen to catch up with its tireless proprietress. The woman whose portrait is enshrined in the National Portrait Gallery, and whose life inspired a beloved Disney character was born in Madisonville, Louisiana, across Lake Ponchartrain from New Orleans. One of 11 children, she was 6 years old when the Great Depression struck, and she recalled wearing clothes made from grain sacks and subsisting on food from their own garden.

She arrived in New Orleans to attend Catholic high school, and went on to work at a French Quarter restaurant for $1 a day. Just after World War II ended, she married jazz musician Edgar “Dooky” Chase, whose parents owned a po’ boy stand in Treme. Over the years she would transform the business into one of the most significant and celebrated restaurants in the entire country.

A generation of children were introduced to Leah Chase in the character of Tiana, Disney’s first African-American princess, in 2009’s The Princess and the Frog. When he first visited Dooky Chase, the film’s co-director John Musker, he was surprised to see a photo of General George Patton on the wall among Mrs. Chase’s famed collection of African-American art.

“She goes, ‘That was a man that I admired,’” Musker recalled. “It was just a great thing to see this warm and nurturing thing, but she has this flinty side, too, where she can be both. That’s what we tried to get with Tiana, that she’s very warm and vulnerable but she has a passion, spine and a backbone and she’s really trying to get something done and doesn’t give in easily to things.”

Mrs. Chase always said, “In my dining room, we changed the course of America over a bowl of gumbo and some fried chicken.” It was an honor beyond words to count her among my friends, and to carry forth her legacy.

This article originally appeared in the New Orleans Data News Weekly

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Business

Don’t Be Chick’n and Try Something Vegan!

What was originally known as Compassion Meals in Sacramento has now rebranded and blossomed into a vegan fried chick’n food truck based at Lake Merritt in Oakland, called Don’t Be Chick’n (DBC). 

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Outside of the Don’t Be Chick’n Food Truck at 277 Grand Ave. in Oakland. Photo by Isabelle Price.

What was originally known as Compassion Meals in Sacramento has now rebranded and blossomed into a vegan fried chick’n food truck based at Lake Merritt in Oakland, called Don’t Be Chick’n (DBC). 

Owned and operated by Nkoyo Adakama, the food truck that began operations July 3 serves vegan soul food based around the star theme of the truck, the vegan fried chick’n. 

While Adakama’s start in the food industry was rough due to racial attacks against her and her business in Sacramento, Don’t Be Chick’n seems to have received great traction in Oakland. Before the food truck, DBC had pop-up locations at New Parkway Theatre and Au Lounge on Broadway that were such a success that they led the way for the food truck to make its debut. 

The prices for the food are a bit on the higher end and the wait, not including the line, for the food is roughly 30 minutes. However, if you are looking to support a business owned by a Black woman and want to try some solid vegan soul food while enjoying Lake Merritt, I would recommend going to this food truck. Adakama’s food reminds me of a vegan dupe for Raising Canes.  

The truck is located at Lake Merritt, usually at 277 Grand Ave. in Oakland, generally from about 2:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Both the location, hours and menu may vary during the week, so it is important to follow their Instagram account for frequent updates. For any questions or catering requests, they can be emailed at contactus@dontbechickn.com. 

All information for this article was gathered from Don’t Be Chick’n Instagram and website and an Oaklandside story. 

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Activism

Free School Meals for All Here to Stay in California

With 1 in every 6 children facing hunger in the U.S., California is the first state to promise that every public school student — all 6 million of them – will get free school meals.

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Nancy Skinner

With 1 in every 6 children facing hunger in the U.S., California is the first state to promise that every public school student — all 6 million of them – will get free school meals.

The universal school meals program, which will launch in the 2022-2023 school year, is part of the landmark state budget agreement reached between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature last month. Days later, Maine became the second state to commit to offering a universal school meals program with the signing of its budget.

The program ensures that all students will be offered breakfast and lunch at their school, which state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said is “essential to learning.” Skinner has led the effort to establish a universal school meal program.

“We know that many California children are food insecure, and if you’re hungry you cannot learn well,” Skinner said. “The whole point of school is learning, and everything we can do to create an environment that allows children to thrive and learn is what we need to do.”

Skinner introduced a bill in March that would have established a universal school meal program. After the program garnered bipartisan support and the California Department of Finance forecast unexpectedly large projected revenues, lawmakers opted to include it in the state budget rather than as a separate bill.

The final agreement between Newsom and the Legislature calls for $650 million through the Proposition 98 fund each year to reimburse school districts starting in 2022, as well as $54 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year to supplement state meal reimbursements. Proposition 98 is the formula that determines what portion of the general fund goes to community colleges and K-12 schools.

The state program is set to begin in the 2022-23 school year because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has already committed to paying for school meals for all students through the 2021-22 school year.

The USDA has reimbursed districts for providing free meals to all students since the start of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, districts were only reimbursed for feeding students who were enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. Advocates said being able to feed students without having to check whether they qualified for free lunches allowed districts to serve more families at a time when many faced hunger and hardship.

Waiving the eligibility requirements allowed the Oakland Unified School District, for example, to distribute as many as 18,000 grab-and-go meals a day during the pandemic, said spokesman John Sasaki.

“That just goes to show the need that was there,” Sasaki said.

Previously, as part of the National School Lunch Program application process, families had to disclose their household income, how many people lived in the household, their children’s immigration status or if their children were homeless or runaways. Some families feared giving out that information, and students may have felt embarrassed to receive a free meal while others paid for it.

Schools in New York City began serving free meals to all students in 2017 after finding that some students would rather go hungry than admit they didn’t have enough money to pay for lunch. The decision followed a national outcry over “lunch shaming” — publicly shaming students for unpaid school meal bills, or even school staff throwing away their lunches rather than allowing them to eat.

Advocates believed that though 3.9 million students – 63% of California’s student body — participated in the program, the need was actually much higher.

“It’s such good news that everybody gets food with no strings attached, but to be able to do it in a way that nobody is called out is the best thing about this,” Sasaki said. “We want to make sure kids are never given a hard time for being who they are or being in the situation they are in.”

Districts will still be asking families to fill out household income eligibility forms, however. That’s because the number of families in the district that make so little that they qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program remains a key factor in the state’s Local Control Funding Formula. The formula gives additional state funds to districts based on the number of low-income students, English learners, foster children and homeless youth they serve.

Tony Wold, the West Contra Costa Unified associate superintendent of business services, said the district was concerned that fewer families would fill out the household income eligibility forms because they didn’t have to in order to receive free meals. That could have potentially led to a reduction in supplemental funds for the cash-strapped district. To help solve the problem, the district had outreach workers call families directly, explaining why it was important for families to submit the information.

The outreach workers’ “big lift” resulted in more families filling out the forms than the previous year, Wold said, which kept the district’s unduplicated pupils percentage constant. That statistic measures the share of a district’s students who are low-income, homeless, foster youth or English learners — all of which drive the Local Control Funding Formula.

Outreach workers at Oakland Unified emphasize to families who are skeptical about the forms that they determine how much money goes to the classroom, Sasaki said.

California School Boards Association spokesman Troy Flint said the organization anticipates it will be harder for districts to collect income eligibility forms with the new universal meals program. The association hopes the state will provide some support to schools’ “diligent and creative efforts” to collect the forms, though the group isn’t calling for any specific change.

“This administration has prioritized steering additional money toward high-need students, particularly into concentration grants, so there’s reason to believe they might be willing to work toward a modification here,” Flint said.

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Community

Blazin Fish & Chips

Open Monday-Sunday from 11:00 a.m.- 8:30 p.m.

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Blazin Fish & Chips, 3730 Sonoma Blvd. Vallejo, Ca.

Blazin Fish & Chips is a Black-owned seafood restaurant located at 3730 Sonoma Blvd. in Vallejo, Ca. They’re open Monday-Sunday from 11:00 a.m.- 8:30 p.m. They allow dining to go and they’re also available on Grubhub, DoorDash, and UberEats. Blazin Fish & Chips offers tons of different menu options including catfish, tilapia, red snapper and sole. Don’t like fish? They have fried chicken and their special sandwiches called hoagies. Check them out by visiting their website http://blazinfishchips.com/ 

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