by Jonathan Stoll
On Episode #27 Marlan Simpson, a high school teacher, explains what Jeff Duncan Andrade calls 'audacious hope." Marlan explains that "If you're eating lunch in front of a student who's hungry, and you're not willing to share your food with them, you've lost and it doesn't matter what you teach, because you're not giving them any hope."
I recall Mr. Lindsey feeding his students. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach as the saying goes. This likely is even more so true of a hungry student. Marlan speaks of meeting a students' basic needs. A hungry student can't learn efficiently. That's why the Black Panthers began providing free breakfast for children before school. Food fuels our body and mind. Good food nourishes the soul. Soul food is often referred to as comfort food.
And Lilian provides just that. There's something about a small, local restaurant feeding a community. Before we interviewed Lilian I had called her at her restaurant, Simply Soulful Cafe. She put me on hold. As I waited I could hear laughter and excitement. Lilian had forgotten she had me on hold. I learned later that a former employee was visiting the restaurant and showing off her new born baby. Lilian referred to this former employee as "family." Simply Soulful is a family owned, Black owned business. Simply Soulful creates an environment that brings family and friends together to share a meal. And their customers are like family in a way. They say the customer is always right, but at a Black owned restaurant like Simply Soulful Cafe I'm not sure that's always the case. There's something about the grit and the authenticity of the Black Experience that simmers within a Black owned, soul food restaurant. Lilian told a few stories about her mother Barbara giving a customer who showed up to order just a few minutes before closing, a hard time. A customer whose regular order is remembered, I imagine they feel like family. Soul food itself was a product of resilience; slaves making lemonade out of lemons, turning scraps of unwanted food left by slave owners into a delicious cuisine.
Elizabeth Hammond was born in West Point, MS in 1922. She gave birth to Barbara who years later gave birth to Lilian. Elizabeth Hammond aka Ms. Liz, moved to Spokane, WA, and passed her simple, yet mouth-watering sweet potato pie recipe to her daughter Barbara who decided that the indulgent taste of the recipe should be shared with the world. She gave birth to Simply Soulful Cafe. It's a family affair. Ms Liz was also affectionately known as "Mama." The African American Grandmother as the Black Matriarch is the title of Dr. Tanisha Nicole Stanford's dissertation.
I'm pretty certain there's more than simply cooking that's happening in the Simply Soulful Cafe kitchen. Lilian's pouring in love, and mixing in a whole of of soul into that fried chicken batter. I haven't yet had the opportunity to taste it, but I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. Perhaps love works a little like salt when added to dishes in that it helps accentuate the flavors.