Black Joy: Believe in your own dopeness – and pass the (vegan) mac and cheese

Words of affirmation. Physical touch. Quality time. Acts of service. Receiving gifts.  

Those are the five love languages according to Gary Chapman who literally wrote the book about these types of thingsYou know what really should be its own love language? Food. 

We communicate love and comfort through food, and I’m excited to taste those Thanksgiving staples: Dressing, greens and the crown jewel: macaroni and cheese.   

But Birmingham, Ala., native Khalilah Sowell didn’t feel that comfort during the holidays as vegan. Instead, she munched on salad. Now the owner of the Underground Vegan food truck, Sowell has made a vegan Thanksgiving menu so that everyone can have a hefty plate of Black Joy complete with meatless loaf, southern fried cabbage with vegan sausageand yes, vegan mac and cheese.   

“Food is conversation. It’s stories,” Sowell said. “Food, even if it’s vegan, is associated with some type of memory. Like, ‘Oh, these greens remind me of my grandmother when she was in the kitchen and I would help her cut them and soak them and cook them’ or ‘This mac and cheese reminds me of when my aunt burnt the mac and cheese.’”

Wanting to widen the selection of vegan options in her city, Sowell opened Underground Vegan in October 2019. Despite the pandemic, Underground Vegan’s “Chickun Sammy” became such a hit that Sowell plans to open a brick-and-mortar location in Birmingham’s Five Points South neighborhood in spring 2021.

Whipping up a vegan Thanksgiving was always part of Sowell’s business plan. The meatless loaf consists of Beyond Meat, a plant-based substitute, but it’still smothered in the same down-home seasonings. Sowell is not giving up her mac and cheese recipe, but she said you can trust it to be creamy and buttery. Sowell makes sure to keep families in mind when she crafts her recipes so that kids can see their parents eat healthy foods 

“Vegan food actually heals,” Sowell said.  “We are so used to feeling sluggish after you eat. Food shouldn’t make you feel like that. It should make you happy and productive.”  

FridayNov. 20., is the last day to purchase a Thanksgiving meal online. You can pick up your meal between 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day at Underground Vegan’s commercial kitchen at 3439 Lorna Lane in Hoover. You can specify your pickup time in the special instruction section as you order your meal.  

While you wait, check out this rap by artist PBD (stands for Plant Based Dripping) Grey about having a vegan Thanksgiving which Sowell used to advertise her meals. It’s a bop! 

Dope art dipped in chocolate 

Birmingham artist Yogi Dada married her two loves this holiday season: art and the spirit of giving.  

Dada teamed up with local business Chocolatá to raise money for Black art students in the city. Chocolatá  owner Kathy D’Agostino took Dada’s most popular art pieces and wrapped them around her Magic City crafted chocolate bars to create the “Dea Africa” seriesFifty percent of every purchase from this series goes into a fund that Black art students can use to buy $100 worth of art supplies at Forstall Art Center located in downtown Birmingham. You can buy the chocolate online or stop by Chocolatá’s shop at 1927 2nd Avenue North in Birmingham 

I really want to provide an opportunity to bridge the gap between working with what you have and being able to try something new,” Dada said. “If a student wants to buy an art kitwhich can range between $50 to $200, or get some supplies or try a new medium, this can take some stress off them financially.”  

“Dea Africa” is the first recorded name for African Goddess. According to Chocolatá’s website, D’Agostino thought that would be the perfect name for a series featuring the work of Dada, masterful storyteller whose uplifting soul shines from her being 

Dada is wellknown for her custom, hand-painted “dadas,” what she calls her mediumsized earrings, and her “ear bangers,” her huge attention-demanding earrings. But before celebrities started wearing her art, which is vibrant mixture of African influences and graffiti, Dada said she was no stranger to financial struggles. She remembers taking off from school for a semester or two just so she could work and pay bills – and that was with a scholarship and financial help from family.  

It wasn’t a peaceful journey,” Dada said. “It was very stressfulI think that can hinder the creative process when you’re dealing with that level of, ‘Oh, how do I pay for this? How do I pay for that?’”  

She wants to alleviate some of that stress for young Black artists. After funds are raised through Dea Africa chocolate series, an application process will begin. So, heads up. If you’re a Black fine arts major on the collegiate level and you’re struggling to buy highquality art supplies, you can email 

Although the fundraiser is all about getting premium art supplies to rising Black artists, Dada’s advice to up-and-coming artists is to be resourceful. If you don’t have the funds to buy a $300 canvas, you can paint on a piece of wood or an old bedsheet, she said.  

“Just look at the world around you and see what you can create from that. You don’t have to be bound by your financial challenges,” Dada said. “Believe in your own dopeness. Art is completely subjective. Who’s going to tell you you’re not dope?” 

A Young, Southern and Black Thanksgiving 

What does progress look like for Black southerners under 30? We explore those answers in a new series I dropped called “Young, Southern and Black.” The title was inspired by Nina Simone’s song “To be young, gifted and Black.”  

So far a University of Alabama graduate student talked to us about how Black women bring hope to the South. An Auburn University graduate student from Georgia talked about their dreams of becoming the state’s first non-binary U.S. senator and gave tips on how to build a more LGBTQ-friendly state. You can read what brings them Black Joy here.  

Next week, you’ll meet Jamie Lowe, a 20-year-old legal mediator who ran for city council in Opelika this fall – and almost wonYesyou read all of that correctly.   

As busy as Lowe has been this year, he can finally take a break during Thanksgiving, which is one of his favorite holidays as he watches his family members cut up.  

I think anytime you gather a group of us together, you can’t help but be joyous,” Lowe said. “Even at funerals which are obviously sad occasions, there’s still laughter as we reminisce. We’re just a fun group. We are so full of soul, passion and energy.” 

You got your uncle who had too much to drink and he always has a story about what is going on with him and the woman he is with,” Lowe continues. Then we’ll be talking about who is cooking the potato salad and who is mis-cooking the potato salad.”  

While we can’t gather like we usually do because Ms. Rona is out here catching more cases (#TeamStayIndoors), Lowe said he will be enjoying Thanksgiving with his immediate family as they try to sing “Silent Night” by the Temptations.  

Of course no one can sing, and when they start playing it you can’t even hear them any more over us,” Lowe laughed.  

Speaking of which, what’s your favorite Black Christmas jam? I’m thinking about making a Black Christmas playlist that I would like to share with all of you. Send me your favorite tunes by emailing me at 

As Yogi Dada said above, believe in your dopeness and keep spreading that Black Magic, y’all. Until next time! 

Your weekly roundup of Black Joy is produced by the Black Magic Project, a Facebook group where we celebrate and discuss Black culture and community. You can join the group and spread your own melanin magic by clicking here.  

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