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Celebrate Black History Month in Detroit

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

On a rainy, snowy Sunday in February, a visit to the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit is a great way to spend the day.

This is an especially good month for a visit, because it is Black History Month. We first celebrated the unique contribution of African Americans to our national story during a week in February 1926 that spanned the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming. In 1976, the nation’s bicentennial, the observance was expanded to a month’s duration. Since then, each president has issued African American History Month proclamations.

I’ve visited the Wright Museum of African American History many times and have always learned something new about the 35,000 artifacts it houses.

The cultural treasure was created through the vision of Dr. Charles Wright, a Detroit physician who was inspired after visiting a memorial to World War II heroes in Denmark. His vision grew into the world’s largest institution dedicated to the African-American experience. The Wright Museum’s mission is to use history to “inspire everyone toward greater understanding, acceptance and unity.”

My favorite exhibit remains “And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture,” a permanent exhibit that fills 22,000 square feet and 20 galleries. Don’t miss the movie introduction, as it sets the tone for the whole journey.

You begin in Africa, at the cradle of life, and travel over time and geography. The beginning witnesses the tragedy and resilience of African Americans, “enslaved but never mastered.” As you progress through history, you see how a new identity is created — “African American” — as strong families, businesses, educational institutions, spiritual traditions and civic organizations are created, leading all the way to present-day Detroit.

Continuing the theme of celebrating African-American contributions to the vitality of Detroit, I suggest a stop at former Detroit Lions football player Ron Bartell’s Kuzzo Chicken and Waffles at 19345 Livernois Ave.

Bartell opened this comfortable eatery last winter. According to a mural behind the bar, Kuzzo means “a term of endearment for one who is a friend or family member and a person of kindred culture race or nation.”

I must admit that my daughter first introduced me to this food combination, and I was not sold, initially. Tucking into a plate at Kuzzo, though, sealed the appeal of the crispy fried chicken and crunchy waffle. They offer 10 combinations of the Southern specialty.

At the other end of the food spectrum, I really like Detroit Vegan Soul. Erika Boyd and Kirsten Ussery-Boyd opened this unusual restaurant at 8029 Agnes St. in Detroit’s West Village in 2013.

This is soul food that makes you feel healthy, so you can enjoy collard greens, barbecue and mac-n-cheese without any guilt. I didn’t try their signature tofu “catfish” on my first visit, but I will next time.

Another interesting choice for a snack or quick meal is Sweet Potato Sensations, 17337 Lahser Road in Redford, which is run by sisters Jennifer and Charice “Espy” Thomas.

The siblings run Sweet Potato Sensations with their parents, Jeff and Cassandra, who started the business in 1987.  At this establishment, sweet potatoes are elevated to new heights in pies, ice cream, cheesecake and cookies.

You don’t need a presidential proclamation or a special month to visit Detroit and experience the rich cultural and food scene of Michigan’s largest city. All it takes is a short drive down I-94 to the Motor City.

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