From art to food to shopping, here are ideas for supporting black-owned businesses
So Black History Month is half over, and maybe you're feeling like you should do something to honor it.
Last weekend, I met up with friends to tour the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, something I had been meaning to do since it opened. It was a sobering - even overwhelming - experience.
My friends and I met on the lower level, and with an injured knee, I couldn't easily take the steep staircase up to the main entrance. So I entered through the "accessible" entrance on the lower level, and an employee escorted me through the elevator to the lobby.
"How's your day going?" I asked. "It's been a day," he said, shaking his head.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I replied. "Is it just really crowded today?"
"Yeah, because it's Black History Month," he said. And I understood. I had seen the buses dropping off groups of kids out front. And here I was, adding to the tourist pack in February when I could come any time of year. When I lived less than 2 miles from the museum.
Which raises a point. You don't need an occasion to honor the diversity around you.
So if you haven't gotten around to it yet, no worries. The month may be more than half over, but you have all year to celebrate black history and support black-owned businesses.
Looking for ideas? Here are a few by topic.
Of course, you cannot live in metro Atlanta and not visit the place where it all started, down on Auburn Ave. This is where you'll find the childhood home of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the church where he preached, Ebenezer Baptist. And in this block, you'll find a complex dedicated to the late leader: the iconic King Center, run by his family, and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, operated by the U.S. Park Service.
Not far up the street is the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, where many of Rev. King's artifacts are housed, along with exhibits portraying segregation and the history of the Civil Rights Movement, including a simulated participation in a lunch counter sit-in, vintage TV broadcasts about Rev. King's murder and a more hopeful exhibit showing ways you can make a difference with human rights.
Atlanta is a breeding ground for rap and hip-hop, producing such stars as Ludacris, Big Boy, Outkast, Migos and more. It's also where the trap music genre started. The Trap Music Museum, founded by rapper T.I. himself, is an interactive tribute to the music and some of its stars. According to the AJC, the museum showcases childhood portraits of musicians like Cardi B, 2 Chainz’s Pink Trap House car and even T.I.'s closet that was raided by police.
Forget vegan and juices. We all know the best thing about the South is its fried food, even its Soul food like fried chicken, black-eyed peas, collards and cornbread. So for some of the best African-American cuisine around, try Soul Food and Culture at Krog Street Market. Owner Chef Todd Richards, while originally from Chicago, taught himself to cook Southern, published an award-winning cookbook and then opened a restaurant to serve some of his recipes. He stresses the importance of teaching the community about black culinary traditions. For a taste of his mouthwatering fried green tomatoes, come on our Food and Art Tour of the Atlanta BeltLine.
Here is some shopping you can feel good about. Stop into Bombchel in Ponce City Market for Liberian-made clothing and gifts. Located on the second floor of Ponce City Market, a former Sears factory turned into a food hall and shopping mall, this company started as a way to help women in Liberia who had been devastated by the ebola epidemic. Bombchel founder Archel Bernard opened a sewing factory there, offering women salaries for the first time in their lives. This location is the factory’s first store. Be sure to take home an “Atlanta Influences Everything” shirt. Because, yeah, we do.
Check out the ZuCot Gallery, which claims to be the largest African-American owned fine art gallery in the Southeast. From exhibits featuring civil rights photography to African-influenced art, this gallery in the artsy Castleberry Hill neighborhood is a tribute to all that is beautiful about being black, and being human. We're not the only ones noticing. One of their exhibits, hand-crafted pottery by artist Larry Allen, was discovered by Hollywood producers and used in the film "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever." And if you're a Black Panther fan, you can see the artwork of another Atlanta artist, Brandon Sadler (@risingredlotus), who had a painting featured in the first film. Check out his epic mural under the Atlanta BeltLine bridge on North Avenue.
The late Congressman John Lewis was a powerhouse in American civil rights and politics. I was awed to live in his district, and heartbroken when he died in 2020. As a memorial to him, tons of daffodils bloom in Freedom Park around the time of his birthday on Feb. 21, thanks to the efforts of the Freedom Park Conservancy, Trees Atlanta and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
The True Colors Theatre Company, run by the acclaimed Kenny Leon, puts on theatrical productions that "celebrate the rich tradition of Black storytelling while giving voice to bold artists from all cultures." The current play, "Good Bad People," is about a prominent black family in Los Angeles whose son becomes homeless and is shot by police in a case of mistaken identity. See performances at the Southwest Arts Center, one of the jewels of the Cascade neighborhood.
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An Atlanta native, Nicole Gustin is the Founder and CEO of BiteLines, which offers walking Food and Art Tours on the Atlanta BeltLine. She considers the BeltLine her backyard, and is excited to see how Atlanta is reinventing itself. To sample some of Atlanta's best restaurants and street art, join us on our new Doggie Food Crawl, or our fabulous Food and Art Tour of the Atlanta BeltLine. Follow on TikTok and Instagram @bitelinesatl.