In Conversation with Sanford Biggers and Mos Def

Recently, I have been asked to participate in several thought-provoking conversations about current societal issues, including sustainability at the James Beard Foundation Food Conference and how to bring healthy eating to inner cities and food deserts, like Harlem. Occasionally however, I do get to share more about my personal journey in the culinary world as I was able to do last night at a special talk with two cultural icons of our time. I joined two good friends of mine, Harlem artist Sanford Biggers and Hip Hop luminary Mos Def (Yasiin Bey), as we spoke about social and political issues that have affected our particular careers.

The event was held at the prestigious Brooklyn Museum, where Sanford's exhibit Sweet Funk: An Introspective is currently on display. Sweet Funk is Sanford's latest installation of 13 pieces that represent and re-interpret American history through the Black perspective. This insightful and moving exhibition speaks to humanity and its ongoing evolution, as well as the steps it still needs to take to overcome its racial disparities. With those same themes in mind, Sanford hosted a conversation with Mos Def and myself, in the Museum's auditorium as an insight to our own personal stories and struggles we've all had to rise above.

While discussing our individual backgrounds and experiences, we touched upon prevalent themes such as diversity in America, working through our difficulties to create art, using our stories to send a message to our audiences, and ultimately utilizing our talents for a greater cause that can help uplift, not only our people, but society as a whole. Some highlights of the many brilliant reflections of the night included "not creating out of anger," [how] "people have grown cynical of love so they believe in power more than they believe in love," and that African American men "even in a position of authority or fame, at the end of the day can still have a hard time even trying to hail a cab."

The moving conversation concluded in questions from the audience, and the night as a whole was a great way to raise awareness about issues that affect not only artists but also everyday people. We ended a great night with a friendly dinner at a local Brooklyn restaurant, Cheryl's Global Soul Food. As a case in point, when leaving the restaurant, it was still almost impossible for the three of us to hail down a cab. So it goes to show, even while hosting progressive talks like this, we still have a long way to go in ending everyday discrimination.

I want to thank Sanford for giving me the opportunity to participate in this dynamic and engaging conversation and I greatly encourage everyone to go check out his exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum which is currently running until January 12, 2012. Check out the photos below from last night's event and a few of Sanford's pieces in the Sweet Funk exhibition.