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Posted under: Culture Editorial Desk

'Kwanzaa Crawl' Is Driving Economic Support To Black-Owned Businesses In New York City

For the third year in a row, the black bar crawl brings unity, fellowship and fun to NYC.

The pub crawl is a social gathering designed to bring people together under the promise of good drinks and good fun. For decades, communities across the globe (more popularly in Europe, North America, and certain parts of Asia) have participated in crawls to much success and growing popularity. They also serve the function of putting newer bars on the map. While in some areas like the UK, crawls are known for spontaneity in terms of its destination hopping, places like the US offer structure and sometimes even a detailed, mapped-out plan of where "crawlers" are expected to be and when. 

SantaCon is one of the more popular bar crawls of today, uniting natives and expatriates in cities like New York City, London, Vancouver, Brisbane, Moscow and more. The events are free but accept donations for causes local to each respective community. Its turnout has been increasing since its very start in San Francisco back in 1994, and despite much criticism, local governments seem to unanimously rally behind these events and extend the continuation year after year.

But what if someone decided to enhance the concept of a bar crawl? What if we had a bar crawl designed for us by us? In comes sisters Kerry Coddett and Krystal Stark to do just that. On December 26th, Coddett is kicking off the third annual Kwanzaa Crawl, described on its website as "a one day event where people of the African diaspora join together to support black-owned bars in their neighborhoods."

The event is designed to give much-needed love and recognition to black-owned bars in NYC, specifically Brooklyn and now Harlem, with much anticipation from others to expand even further. Last year, the crawl supported 28 local black businesses and ushered in approximately 3,000 crawlers in and out of their establishments. While during SantaCon, participants are expected to wearSanta Claus costumers, for the Kwanzaa Crawl, participants are encouraged to wear whatever makes them feel "unapologetically black and beautiful." 

This event is not to be misconstrued or minimized down to a belligerent fest of binge drinking, as others have garnered a reputation of being. Kwanzaa Crawl bears much substance, which quite directly calls to mind the many values taught in black cultures. It is meant to embody all seven principles of Kwanzaa: 

  1. Umoja (unity)
  2. Kujichagulia (self-determination)
  3. Ujima (collective work and responsibility)
  4. Ujamaa (cooperative economics)
  5. Kuumba (creativity)
  6. Nia (purpose)
  7. Imani (faith)

"Kwanzaa’s principles teach us about collective work, cooperative economics, and self determination," Coddett told Blavity. "So not only is [it] an opportunity to educate people about Kwanzaa and make it cool again, it’s a way to unite and empower the members of our community to think about the impact that we can have in our local communities and in the world at large."

Coddett chose three of these principles to explain how they directly correlate to the crawl:

"Kwanzaa Crawl creates an opportunity for Black people to harness their buying power, and that’s Ujamaa (cooperative economics). Creating an event which focuses on investing in your community to improve your quality of life is Nia (purpose). Getting the owners of over 30 bars to open up for business on the day after Christmas, with the hope that the community will show up is Imani (faith)."

Have these practices been effective to the communities? Absolutely. 

"A new business owner [once] called us in tears, and told us how much it meant to be included in this event," Coddett said. "She said she'd never seen so many people just be willing to support her small business and because of our event, she was able to keep her doors open a little bit longer. That's what this event is all about."

For Coddett, the spending power of black consumers is what can make a difference in the operation of many black-owned bars across NYC, most of which cannot afford to operate seven days a week.

"Kwanzaa Crawl allows us to provide them with supplemental income and to inject their businesses with cash, that they will in turn use to keep their lights on for another month, and to hire more people that live in the community."

This genius idea did not come to Coddett overnight. Both infuriated and deeply hurt by police brutality (specifically the back-to-back police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile back in 2016), she founded Operation Mobilize, a collective of artists and activists who unite under the sole cause of impacting positive change in the community. She has assembled the vehicle necessary to make events like Kwanzaa Crawl work. Plus, participation is not only limited to patrons and business owners. The support of elected officials and local police should be noted as well, as it assembles the community as well as its leaders to champion the cause of Kwanzaa Crawl.

Coddett's creativity has stretched far beyond being one of the major minds to birth this movement. She's also flexing her comedic muscle with Kwanzaa, Actually, a web series dedicated to debunking rumors, misconceptions, stereotypes and negativity about the holiday. Tapping in friend and fellow comedian Rob Haze, the series is as informative as it is funny and relatable.

Kwanzaa Crawl will be donating its proceeds to social justice organization, Barbershop Books, which is described as "a community-based literacy program that creates child-friendly reading spaces in barbershops for young black boys." Participants will also receive a directory of Black-owned businesses that have supported this year's crawl and those of previous years.

If you are in the NYC are on Wednesday, December 26th, it is highly encouraged that you attend Kwanzaa Crawl. Its impact is already being felt on a cultural level, something that sets it apart from counterparts. It fosters the idea and practice of a self-sustaining community. In response to our current political climate and today's society, and in the spirit of being "woke", this event could very well be creating a blueprint to empowerment overall in the black community. Additionally, if you're looking fly, they'll take notice. This year, Coddett and Stark will be handing out Kwanzaa Crawl awards for best outfit, littest team, best DJ  and more.

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Alfonso believes writing helps him reach his max potential. It is his most creative vein and strongest voice. It's what helps him become anyone he wants to be, and it's the easiest way for him to understand others as well as the world around him. From growing up underprivileged in Crown Heights, Brooklyn to graduating with a BA in Film & New Media Studies under a full-tuition scholarship, Alfonso's greatest skill is knowing how to maneuver in both worlds comfortably. Visit FonzFranc.com.