ORLANDO, Fla. - Black History Month was packed with all kinds of cultural events, hosted by Valencia's staff and students. One day, in particular, held the Soul Food Festival on the West campus with Janet Bryan as the primary hostess.
The festival took place Thursday, under the overhanging roof of the side of the SSB building and spread to the picnic area beyond. Students gathered around to wait in line for a heaping plate of African American delicacies, while Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream," speech played in the background.
This was the 16th annual Soul Food Festival and the third year being run with the help of student volunteer and all-around community representative, Janet Bryan.
John Stover is the adviser to A2CS (African American Cultural Society) and Black High Achievers. He organized the festival from the ground up, with the help of Bryan.
“Some of the other festivities that we do help students understand more about our culture," said Stover.
The Soul Food Festival is named after Janet Bryan, who has been a very community oriented student and volunteer for Valencia for the last 3 years. She’s a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the book club, and she’s also on the Committee for Social Justice.
“I like Valencia, I live here. I got a room upstairs and everything," said Bryan. She was only partly joking, of course.
Bryan volunteers at Christian charities and Disney. She’ll also be going to the Dominican Republic next month to be a part of the Civilian Police Patrol for 14 weeks from March to June. She had to postpone the trip, recently, because she is working with an orphanage now.
“I believe in giving back to the community. Someone gave me this, so I wanted to give back,” said Bryan.
Almost every day, there is an event taking place on the West campus of the school. Student Beverly Stanisclause said that she heard of the festival by way of the announcements section of her Atlas account. There were also signs on the street and on billboards around the school that advertised the event.
Stanisclause is a full time student at Valencia. She decided to stop by and grab some food after her classes were finished for the day. Acaie and saw fish is her favorite soul food. She was excited to try the DSM Catering version of the dish. “I think I see it up there, already," she said.
While students waited in line to pick up either fried chicken, green beans, pasta or banana pudding they talked among themselves and read a brief snapshot of the history of the contributions that African American leaders gave to America. There was a framed poster of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X shaking hands on the right and African artifacts to the left of milling students.
“We have a lot of displays and we hand out scholarship information, which also helps," said Stover.
A few tables held decorations, showcasing original artifacts from Kenya, Africa. There were fur-lined drums, wooden statues, pewter dinnerware, and even miniature clay models of cultural icons.
The free food was provided by a company called DSM Catering, suggested by the Black History Class, on campus. DSM is almost 10 years in the making, which consists of an entire family of cooks and chefs.
“Yeah, we’ve been doing it all our lives,” said Raymond Murray.
Sandra, William, and Raymond Murray started the company in Long Island, New York and the three moved down to Florida together shortly after.
Guest speaker Alzo Reddick, an ex-Army General, said a few words to motivate students sitting around and enjoying the "soul food" and company of nearby friends.
“It’s not about where you began, but where you end up,” said Reddick, referencing the immense amount of potential that each and every college student, and American possessed within themselves; this being regardless as to the color of a person's skin.
Previously published in the Valencia Voice