Appetizing Thoughts: Taharka Bros. Ice Cream Saves the Day

Taharka Bros. Poster
I need a break from the news. It’s emotionally draining, upsetting and people are either insensitive, forgetful and/or arrogant. I mean… there’s a rage growing inside of me. As this piece is being written, I’m finishing reading, The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. It tells the story of the Jim Crow laws at the turn of the 20th century through the history of three people who left the south to pursue a better life in Northern cities and on the West coast. It explains how history created present day wealth gaps and how racism has evolved. Between this beautifully written historical book and today’s news, it makes me wanna scream.

Out of the press releases, requests for cookbook reviews  and sample offers from food companies, an email comes in from Taharka Brothers’ Ice Cream who are raising money for an ice cream truck. It’s a timely email, because a few weeks ago, I watched a documentary on Richard Pryor, in which he explains why the n* word is no longer part of his comedic routine. To hear him tell the story is emotional. However, by the time Pryor stopped using the n* word, other comedians would add it to their skits, and today’s rappers and kids say it so fluidly without a thought to their great-great…grandparents who fled an oppressive South for a better and respectful life.

Funkified Fact: In 1979, Pryor visited Africa on the advice of his psychiatrist. There, among the Kenyan people he had an epiphany: “A voice said, ‘Do you see any niggers,’ and I [Pryor] said, ‘No.’ And it said, ‘Do you know why?’ ‘…Cause, there aren’t any!’ And, it hit me like a shot, man! I started crying and shit! I was sittin’ there and…”

Then there are these young men in Maryland creating a better life for themselves, families and communities by being entrepreneurs…and having fun creating socially-conscious flavors reminiscent of past and current inspiring leaders. When possible, the ingredients are ethically sourced, such as working with Haitian farm co-ops growing vanilla and cocoa beans. I invited the Taharka Brother’s to an interview to promote their kickstarter campaign of raising funds for an ice cream truck. If the news this summer has you emotionally on the edge, chill out with a bowl of ice cream and read the Taharka Brother’s inspiring story. After all, July is National Ice Cream month.

Where does the name TAHARKA come from?

Taharka is the name of a young Baltimore man–Taharka McCoy–who had close relationships w/people who would later create Taharka Bros. Ice Cream.

What does it mean?

Well, outside of it being the name of a young Black man from Baltimore, we’ve come to give it a particular meaning as it pertains to Taharka bros. Ice Cream. Taharka McCoy, like many young Black male from inner cities found himself in and out of trouble and on the wrong side of the law at different points in his life. But, for the greater part, he was a good young brother and this fact was born out as Taharka would straighten up and ultimately go on to become a college student w/plans of a successful life beyond the inner city street corners. Taharka had become a mentor to young teens in his ‘hood attempting to help them stay on righter and brighter paths. One men-tee of his decided to veer away from the right side of things and sought to commit a crime. Taharka intervened attempting to prevent the young man from perpetrating and the men-tee, having been armed with a firearm, turned that weapon on Taharka killing him.

So, “Taharka” means that any young Black male surviving/striving within neglected city environments despite striving to do the right things could become a casualty of that environment despite good intentions. In this sense every brother could be a Taharka McCoy. We added “Brothers” as a way to articulate the theme of peace, love, community, family, and unity. Plus in the Black community the word “Brother” is just cool slang that’s used between Black folk to address each other and other non-Black folk.

What are each member/brother’s name?

Brother Brown (CSO)
Logan (Dist. Manager)
The D-vine Styler (Pint. Prod. Manager)
Mr. Freeze (Sous Chef)
Wicked (Food Prod. Prep./Operations Assitant)
Chef Smith ‘N’ Lesson (Exec Pastry Chef/Food Educator)
Vince Charming (Events/Ice Cream Prod. Assistant)
Chuckie (Events/Ice Cream Prod. Assistant)
Mike-Mike (Events/Ice Cream Prod. Assistant)
# Won (Events/Ice Cream Prod. Assistant)
Cory (Food Prod. Prep./Events/Ice Cream Prod. Assistant)

How did five guys come together to make ice cream?

Well at this point it’s gone from five guys seen on the poster to about 8-13 people total depending on the time of year. The original idea was to open up a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop in Bmore because ice cream’s a creative and fun food item to produce and sell/serve to people. But at the time B&J had decided to not offer any franchise opportunities in the city. So, it was decided that ice cream was too much fun not to create so the decision was made to attempt to produce homemade ice cream anyway–without Ben and/or Jerry’s assistance. Lol! Turns out the Brothers had a knack for making award-winning super premium gourmet ice creams and sorbets.

"Cocoa Vanilla" trees in Haiti.
Thelisma Gracie, De La Sol, Inc.’s partner and chocolate production manager in Haiti, stands below a cacao tree with a vanilla vine growing–coiled around it. Haiti is the only place on earth, thanks to the farmers and De La Sol, were vanilla grows on cacao trees (aka chcoclate trees)!

I recently saw a documentary about Richard Pryor as he told the story on how he stopped using the n* word.

Right. Well, the idea for that flavor came about organically. It wasn’t planned. A month back we’d been visited by a TB customer/fan, a Goucher College student named Alex Crockett and his Dad, Teddy. Alex wanted us to meet his father. Spring college semester was coming to a close and Alex was in the middle of finishing up a paper on Black stand-up comics in the U.S. Alex’s Dad is from Mississippi and is seasoned enough to remember the reasons for Mississippi’s racist reputation. We started talking and we got on the topic of the use of the word Nigger and how young White kids are calling each other that today without seemingly any regard for the word’s past and how we’ve experienced witnessing this first hand as the young White kids don’t think twice about calling each other that in front of Black folk! Teddy stated that it reminded him of “a Richard Pryor moment”. The idea of a flavor about Pryor but dealt with the word Nigger was born. It was actually a very funny conversation even though the topic was/is not!

Why is spreading knowledge about our history important?

Well, the idea of using the ice cream as transmitter of information came about over time. It was not the original idea. What happened was that we saw the impact of the Obama Presidential run on people around us in the ‘hoods and people outside the ‘hoods after he won. It was heavy on a grand scale struck deep on many levels for many reasons for many of us–Black, White,Latino, young, old, educated, poor, American, non-Americans, etc. At that point as a direct result the company began having internal conversations about the symbolism of the Obama presidency and its impact on today’s adolescents and generations not yet born–especially Black adolescents and Black generations not yet arrived.

The irony/contradiction in this is that despite Obama things are still quite bad in the Black community and for Black young males specifically. Michelle Alexander’s recent book ‘The New Jim Crow’ is good book to read for further insight on the challenges facing the Brothers. You could start there. So, we thought it would an interesting and impacting idea, based on the above, to turn the company into a company that acted as an activist in the communities it served–ice cream activism, so to speak. If young Black men are the ones mostly dwelling at the bottom of all of our societal indicators then who better than them to be the spokesperson for positive progressive change? They’re highly qualified to speak on injustice and speak on it for themselves, their communities and for people and communities that are not Black and not American as well.

And, what better delivery vehicle to use in such an experiment than ice cream? It’s the perfect social engager as most everyone loves it and the mere thought of it brings joy and smiles to people’s faces of all ages! It’s interesting the seemingly inherent power that ice cream has over people. But, the trick is how do you disseminate the information, spark dialogue between people, and spur individuals/groups to positive progressive action around very difficult and uncomfortable issues w/the company and without sounding preachy but still making it fun? Well, you do it w/a lot of humor and you put the messages into the ice cream itself turning the flavors into knowledge reference points for customers. So, that’s why the flavors reference and are inspired by Black historical figures, movements, moments… But also people, movements and moments that are not racially Black, but they are on what we feel is the right side of history and justice within and without the United States.

Here’s a formula that sums up the whole idea of the model:
Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) + Rock The Vote + 106 & Park/Yo! MTV Raps + Ice Cream = Taharka Brothers

Who’s the next influential historical or present person to name a flavor and why?

Ha! It never ends! We’re always dreaming up new ones. The world is filled with them! Some of the new ones we’re working on are below.
The Emancipation of Carver’s George/Bulletins from the Black Leonardo of Time
(George Washington Carver work w/the peanut at Tuskegee Institute)
The Buzzuard’s Roost: A Popcorn Jubilee
(The desegregation of Jim Crow era movie theaters in the late 1950s–a popcorn flavor. In development)
Paul Mooney
(that’s the tile if he’ll allow it. Lol! In development)
Mookie’s Theme & The Triple Truth…Ruth: Special Dedication & Delivery at Love Daddy’s
(A pizza flavor inspired by the events taking place in Spike Lee’s film ‘Do The Right Thing’ in development)
Paul Robeson
(untitled but in development)
The below are names/events we want to do flavors about but we’ve not yet begun doing the research to develop a recipe for them. A few have working titles that may change and a few do not have titles at all.
The Bloody Sundae
(The MLK, Jr. inspired Northern Irish civil rights movement of the early 1970s)
Original Gang-sters: Enter the Adventures of Buckwheat & Farina
(The story of the Black cast members of The Little Rascals)
The Love Ballot (of Robert & Jeanie Graetz)/Beloved Community
(The story of the MLK, Jr’s friends, Montgomery, Alabama based activists Rev. Robert Graetz and his wife Jeanie Graetz)
Zora Neal Hurston
Sojourner Truth
Harriet Tubman

After the truck, what’s your next business goal?

Just continuing to grow the wholesale business and pint business. The struggle with ice cream as a business is that on the retail store end it’s seasonal. So, in order to grow you have to figure out how to make money during all four seasons of the year. One way of doing that is via pints in stores. The other way is selling tubs wholesale to restaurants and other establishments such as hospitals and colleges. So, that’s what we’re focusing on. We’re excited about working w/colleges as it’s a perfect fit for what we’re doing and college students are one of the primary constituencies for whom we’d love to converse with. In the coming months you’ll be able to find Taharka Bros. on the campus of American University in DC and a few others in DC later in the year.

Taharka Bros. Poster/Food For Thought

4 thoughts on “Appetizing Thoughts: Taharka Bros. Ice Cream Saves the Day

  • July 8, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Such an inspirational article! I see there are still days left on their Kickstarter. I’ll help get the word out! 🙂

  • July 4, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Great Find. I love this article. TAHARKA Bros. may also be interested in ingredients from a Jamaican farm with a philanthropic mission.

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