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GALLERY: Black Food Truck Fridays' Annual Juneteenth Celebration Spotlights Local Vendors

On Friday, hundreds of people flocked to southwest Charlotte to enjoy food from local Black vendors.

Black Food Truck Fridays was launched in 2017 by the Black Business Owners of Charlotte, a non-profit organization that supports local Black businesses. Each week, vendors are stationed at Sonesta Charlotte. For Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States, some vendors decorated in Juneteenth apparel, and others featured special discounts.

BBOC Founder and CEO Cathay Dawkins said the spirit of Black Food Truck Fridays celebrates Juneteenth year-round with the event’s focus on creating an economic impact within Black communities.

“It’s about economic freedom, it’s about being able to sustain yourself, your family, your business,” Dawkins said. “Every year, this gives us the opportunity to stop, reflect, and really drive resources to our community.”

According to Dawkins, each Black Food Truck Friday event sees revenue of $150,000, which includes donations to BBOC and the amount attendees spend at vendors.

Celebrity chef Carla Hall attended the event on Friday. She said she appreciated how the event provides easy access to Black vendors.

“Black Food Truck Friday is akin to going into Whole Foods and you know that they’ve curated all of the brands for you,” Hall said. “You don’t have to do the homework if you want to support small businesses.”

Forty-five vendors were at the event – among them was Island Boys, a food truck that serves handcrafted sandwiches. Owner Joseph Brewster, who has participated in the event since it began in 2017, said he's excited that people are able to buy great food from Black businesses.

“We love that Black Food Truck Fridays has given us a chance to give back and give us a chance to showcase what we can do as cooks,” he said.

LaToya Hodge has been participating in Black Food Truck Fridays since 2019. Her food truck, 50 Shadez of Flavor, serves gourmet desserts. Hodge said she appreciates the event for the location and support it offers local vendors.

“Especially right now during the pandemic, it’s hard to find places with things still shut down some,” Hodge said. “[Black Food Truck Fridays] gives us an opportunity to come out and serve the public and be able to showcase our items.”

Sylvia Hickland’s food truck, Annas Cuisine, serves traditional country food, like chicken, mac and cheese and sweet potatoes. Her business has seen an increase in revenue since participating in the event.

“It’s been a pleasure being out here to see the people gathering and eating food, and my business is growing because the COVID lifted and Black Food Truck Fridays,” Hickland said.

Many vendors have also been able to launch storefront locations since they began participating in Black Food Truck Fridays.

Sonyah Spencer will be opening the Urban Reader Bookstore on July 1. Spencer became a vendor with Black Food Truck Fridays this year, although she has been a member of BBOC since 2019 and currently serves on the community advisory board.

For Spencer, events like Black Food Truck Fridays are important because they shed a light on Black history and culture.

“One thing I enjoy about Black Food Truck Fridays is everybody comes out,” Spencer said. “No matter what race you are, they come out, they love the food and they love the vendors.”

Black Food Truck Fridays re-launched this March after the event was paused last year due to COVID-19. Past events this year have included COVID-19 vaccination clinics to inoculate city residents.

Conscious of the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Food Truck Fridays has also expanded its hours from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. in order to decrease the number of people who attended the event at one time.

Black Food Truck Fridays has grown in success quickly in part because not many other cities have consistent events dedicated to Black communities, Dawkins said. Dawkins estimates that 25 to 35% of patrons are from out of state.

Beginning June 25, Black Food Truck Fridays is going national. Each month, the event will visit different cities around the country, starting with a stop in Columbia, South Carolina. While visiting different cities, an event will still be held every Friday in Charlotte.

This Tuesday, BBOC is also hosting a special Black Food Truck Tuesday charity event as part of Dine Out For Kids, a fundraiser for the nonprofit Communities In Schools of Charlotte Mecklenburg.

For Dawkins, it’s important to create a habit of frequenting Black businesses and driving resources to Black communities.

“Be intentional about your support of Black businesses,” Dawkins said.

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Kamille Houston is a WFAE intern covering stories grounded in community outreach and engagement. She is currently studying English at the University of Pennsylvania, where she writes on race and equity for the student newspaper The Daily Pennsylvanian.