‘Glory From Ashes’ celebrates African American food and fashion06/20/2023 02:56PM ● By Richard Gaw
Photo by Richard L. Gaw Voices Underground Co-Director Greg Thompson spoke with Philadelphia fashion designer and entrepreneur Kimberly McGlonn as part of “Freedom’s Table Dinner: A Dinner of Friendship” that was held before 100 guests on June 18 at Lincoln University.
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
In a weekend where prominent landmarks and venues hosted a diverse series of Juneteenth events throughout Chester County, it was only fitting that the culminating event of the commemoration was held at one of the nation’s premiere historically black colleges and universities.
In association with Voices Underground, Lincoln University hosted “Freedom’s Table Dinner: A Dinner of Friendship” before 100 guests on June 18 that featured a four-course meal prepared by Chef Shadee of FoodHeadz, and a conversation with Philadelphia fashion designer and entrepreneur Kimberly McGlonn.
Subtitled “Glory from Ashes,” the event served as a celebration of both food and fashion and how each has helped define and shape the African American culture – as well as fostered economic and social opportunities.
“Juneteenth tells the story of African American dignity and beauty and the struggle for freedom, but it also tells the story of sustainability and resourcefulness,” said Greg Thompson, who along with Alex Parham is the co-director for Voices Underground, a non-profit launched collaboratively with Square Roots Collective, Lincoln University and Longwood Gardens that helps communities tell their African American stories in ways that are true, transformative and enduring.
“The theme for tonight is ‘Glory from Ashes’ -- how African Americans historically have taken the little that was given to this culture and made some of the most beautiful and powerful artifacts and cultural realities of any place in the world. It’s an incredible story that applies to music, food, fashion and literature.”
Following welcome addresses by Parham and Lincoln University President Dr. Brenda A. Allen, Thompson hosted a “fireside chat” with McGlonn, who shared her life’s journey, its struggles and ultimately her success as the founder, owner and CEO of Blk Ivy Thrift & Vintage in Philadelphia, which opened earlier this year. With a focus on sustainability, the clothing store provides a thrift-and-vintage concept that focuses on fashion that spans two key moments in the Civil Rights movement: Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and Shirley Chisholm’s campaign for U.S. presidency in 1972 – the first African American and woman to do so.
A native of Milwaukee, Wisc., McGlonn was raised in a middle-class family whose parents fell to the human struggle of depression and drug addiction, but through the guidance of friends and counselors, she became the first member of her family to attend college and eventually earned her doctorate. After teaching for 20 years, she was inspired by a Netflix documentary about the jazz artist Lee Morgan, who was noted for his “Ivy League” style of clothing, a smart look that permeated the fashion and jazz culture in the 1950s and served as a statement that African Americans should be respected.
“There were tactics that were used during this era both in fashion and outside of fashion to provoke the spirit of resistance,” she said.
Blk Ivy represents a celebration not only of freedom, but expression, McGlonn said.
“During the week, most African Americans donned the costumes of submission in the uniforms that we were required to wear,” she said, “but Sunday was a day when we could articulate our vision for how we wanted to express ourselves in our best and at our best, and do it in a place of sustainability, which is through our faith.”
McGlonn told the audience that her decision to leave the teaching profession to embark on an entirely new focus in her life was “a call to action.”
“There are a number of people in this room who have had a moment in their lives when they came to an awareness of something, and they had to decide whether they were going to ignore that awareness or be called into action,” she said. “I love teaching, but I wanted to see the world from a different perspective.”
After a trip to Africa, she established a team of seamstresses, directors and graphic designers in Philadelphia, “in order to convince people that there was work to do,” McGlonn said. “I tried to intersect my passion with their passion so that we could play together and do something that was important.”
McGlonn is also the founder and CEO of Grant Blvd in Philadelphia, an agency that creates pathways to self-sufficiency for minorities who have been incarcerated by developing employment opportunities through sustainability, waste reduction, job creation and racial inclusivity.
Grant Blvd, she said, is about changing an entrenched narrative.
“The reality is that when we think about how we define ourselves, our government is telling us the stories about what we should care about, and if we don’t know who produces our earnings, it really means that we have decided to opt out of asking why or when or where or who or how,” she said. “In doing that, we unintentionally align ourselves with cruel forces.
“If there was one legacy of my life, it would be that I used my life to think about how to invite people to see what is hard to look at and to change what is hard to change, which is ignorance.”
To learn more about Voices Underground, visit www.vuproject.org.
To learn more about Grant Blvd, visit www.grantblvd.com.
To learn more about Blk Ivy Thrift & Vintage, visit www.blkivythrift.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].