July 9, 2016, marked what turned out to be the beginning of a movement with the birth of Open Bite Night. Held at 34th and Clifton in front of our house, we transformed that corner into a place for community and social issues to converge. On the heels of nationwide turmoil with the root being unarmed black men being killed followed by retaliatory attacks against police, this home grown venue proved to be the fertilized ground that allowed comfort and healing to grow.
We, RoE Creations, hosted what seemed to be the first event of its kind. We gave 10 aspiring food artists, with varying levels of experience and goals, a platform to showcase their culinary talents. Along with the scrumptious food were many local performing artists who brought spoken word poetry, rap and singing to the “stage” which was actually our porch. With around 280+ people milling around all evening, our little intersection was bustling for the entire neighborhood to see and even participate. So much so, we attracted attention that we didn’t necessarily think we wanted.
A couple of hours into the event, a police cruiser pulled up in front of our house and parked in the middle of the street. Once his car was parked, it was as though a record scratched as nearly every head present turned to look while others shifted in their seats or took tense stances. I watched from the porch-stage, where I was playing DJ, as the police officer got out of the car and slowly walked around his car stopping at his passenger door where he could scan the house and crowd. I kept my eyes on him as I continued shuffling through music files for the performers. Within about five minutes, a second squad car pulled up and repeated the actions of the first. That’s when I jumped down off of the porch, intuitively, not consciously. I trotted over to the officers who, by this time, were standing at the fence still scanning the crowd and “stage”. I smilingly introduced myself as the lady of the house and co-host of the event, pointing out my husband as he walked back and forth tending to everyone. When I asked if there was a problem, the officer’s response took me aback. He shrunk away from me, slightly putting both hands up in an “I come in peace” motion, blushed a little and almost whispered, almost stuttered, “No… no. There’s no problem. I… I was just watching them,” slowly, slightly turning towards the porch and pointing, “them and listening to the music.” I kind of frown-smiled as a reaction to his reaction while the second officer just nodded his head in straight-faced agreement. I then turned on a bright smile, pointed out where food and drinks were and told them to let me know if they needed anything. It warmed my heart.
The officers ultimately called in a couple more of their cohorts and four officers stood at our fence bobbing their heads, dancing, cheering for the performers and recording Snapchat videos with guests. They hung around for almost an hour, chatting it up and expressing how impressed they were with this many people at that particular intersection communing and having a great time, incident-free as they were used to. Their visit ended as a couple of them were on their lunch break, and they left our yard with my husband telling the officer who patrols our road that his life mattered and the officer reciprocating the sentiment.
This hour-long exchange was my favorite part of Open Bite Night. Of course the performers brought their A-games and the cooks were phenomenal. But having our event aid in bridging the chasm between law enforcement and people of color was more than I could have ever predicted and I’m blessed to have had a hand in it.