Chicago

Maya-Camille Broussard's Charitable Pies Inspire Social Justice in Chicago

The Justice of the Pies baker isn't letting a pandemic stop her.

Courtesy of Caroline Taft
Courtesy of Caroline Taft
Courtesy of Caroline Taft

The future can be molded. Maya-Camille Broussard, owner of Justice of the Pies, is sure of that after having manifested a dream client — the Obama Foundation — and getting to meet the former president himself.

“One of the most important things about creating a vision board is to be very clear about your ask,” says Broussard. “Don’t just cut out words from a magazine and paste them onto a white board. The words don’t mean anything if it doesn’t clearly visualize what you want.” 

Broussard founded Justice of the Pies, a bakery specializing in sweet and savory pies, quiches, and tarts, in 2014. The business pays homage to her father Stephen J. Broussard, a criminal defense attorney with an affinity for baked goods, who passed away in 2009 as a result of a brain tumor. With her vision board in mind, Broussard added an image of President Barack Obama and the logo for the Obama Foundation to her 2018 collage, in an attempt to materialize a working relationship. 

“[Justice of the Pies] was created to celebrate [my father’s love of pie] but to also honor his belief that people deserve second chances,” Broussard. “His goal wasn’t to get rich. He wanted to represent people who he felt deserved a fair fight in court. He was familiar with the upbringing and life of his clients. [My father] grew up in the projects — there was this deep desire to represent people who looked like him.”

Broussard carries on his legacy — using pie crusts instead of the Constitution — but the family fight for justice and equality remains the same. Justice of the Pies is registered as a low-profit limited liability company, so this social enterprise model creates a tax structure friendly to donors. Broussard sells through partners located across the city instead of having a brick-and-mortar location. Current retailers include Soho House, Goose Island Brewhouse, Ina Mae Tavern, Frontier, and Eleven | Eleven Chicago.

Courtesy of Lindsay Widdel
Courtesy of Lindsay Widdel
Courtesy of Lindsay Widdel

When the pandemic hit, Broussard shifted from selling her products at farmers markets, festivals, and fairs (which were mostly shut down), to feeding front-line workers, primarily on the city’s south side. To date, she’s made, packaged, and delivered more than 3,200 meals. Notable names, such as Kerry Washington and the cast of Scandal, and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, stepped up to sponsor meals through Broussard’s business. 

Broussard sees food as an accessible entry point to various communities for learning. Right now, that means using her food business to advocate for people living with disabilities. There is no reliable database tracking how people with disabilities or mental health issues are affected by police brutality. However, advocacy groups including the National Alliance of Mental Health’s Illinois chapter say the number is substantial — at least half the deaths caused by police involve a victim with a disability or mental health issue. This is of great concern for Broussard as a Black woman with what she calls an “invisible disability.”

Broussard is hearing impaired and uses hearing aids and reads lips to communicate — a feat made more difficult by the face masks required during this pandemic. If anyone calls or attempts to converse with her and she is not facing them head on, it is very likely Broussard will not acknowledge them, which could result in a misunderstanding or other altercation. It’s not far-fetched to say a similar encounter involving police could end in tragedy. 

“There needs to be better understanding and compassion among police with how to approach and talk to people who are living with a disability,” says Broussard. “If someone is treated more fairly by police, they could be apprehended without being killed.” 

Broussard’s fight for justice does not begin and end there. She fundraises for Cabrini Green Legal Aid. Broussard partnered with the organization, which offers its services citywide, in 2017 for a pie-drive where 20 percent of sales benefitted the organization. Her participation in the event, and others like it, allow children who look like her to see themselves in a similar role. Representation influenced her mission in educating the Black community, specifically children, on the power of food. It is yet another piece of Broussard’s business that is inspired by her father.

“There was a lot of trauma for him with the availability of food as a child,” says Broussard. “He didn’t always have access to food growing up.” As a result, in his adult life, Broussard’s father prioritized eating right. 

Broussard began hosting I Knead Love, a one-day workshop for fifth to eight graders from low income communities, in 2017. Lessons covered nutrition, healthy eating habits, and basic cooking skills that encouraged creativity in the kitchen. The primary goal of the program was to instill confidence in children who were food insecure. The pandemic has kept Broussard from continuing the classes in person.  

Courtesy of Devin Davis
Courtesy of Devin Davis
Courtesy of Devin Davis

And as much as Justice of the Pies is a reflection of the hard times her father faced, it is also the manifestation of a vision to evolve past trauma. There is a family trait that runs through the Broussards — they know what they want and work to bring it to fruition. Broussard worked alongside chefs Erick Williams, owner of Virtue; Brian Jupiter, owner of Frontier and Ina Mae; and Carlos Gaytan, owner of Tzuco, to prepare a meal for 400 guests such as the Obamas and Billy Porter. She met Obama at the end of night where they exchanged pleasantries and took a photo together. Her sweet potato pies for the meal led to Porter sharing a story about his first Thanksgiving with his husband. 

“[Porter] wasn’t used to the items they were serving at the dinner,” Broussard shares. “He wanted mac and cheese and candied yams, but they had green beans with onions. It was a very white Thanksgiving dinner. But then, he eyed a pie in the middle of the table and got excited because he recognized the orange custard as sweet potato pie, which is very Southern. So he stuck his fork, brought it to his mouth and was very disappointed to discover it was pumpkin pie.” 

Recalling the memory makes her laugh as she explains how “pie is universal but the way it is filled can be informative of a person’s culture — there’s always a story to why.” 

Broussard also recently launched Justice for All, a subscription based service for cooking classes taught by her.

“People are experiencing pandemic fatigue and they are not donating as much,” says Broussard. “I have some anxiety, but I’m focusing on staying positive and trying not to get swallowed by the worrisome thoughts. I can’t allow myself to get into that place because it’ll be a hard place to come back from.” 

As for what’s next, for Thanksgiving, she will do a satellite pop-up site where people can pick-up their pies. Last year, she completed 300 orders in one day and she doesn’t expect this year to be any different. Sign up here for our daily Chicago email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Ximena Larkin is a contributor for Thrillist. 

Chicago

Robyn DaCultyre Is Doing It for the Culture

"The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone."

Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi

I was introduced to Robyn DaCultyre at an Untitled Queen show at C’mon Everybody in late January, and it was one of the most unique drag shows I’d seen in a while. Afterwards, I tracked down this self-described “drag creature” and video chatted about her drag origin story, the state of drag in her native Ohio, and the dual identities that make up her persona. Thrillist: I want to ask you about how Robyn DaCultyre came about and your point of view behind your performance.

Robyn DaCultyre: I’ve been travelling around the country from a young age in ministry and Christian studies. I moved to Chicago right after high school. Four years later, moved back to Columbus and decided I didn’t really want to do church anymore; that wasn’t where my heart was.

I had a really low point in my life and had a suicide attempt and then really found drag and started doing drag as a coping mechanism and way to let off steam. I started in July of 2019, and it was really a lot of punk and metal music. I created this drag creature of sorts and they were really out of this world and celestial and all of those fun alien type terms.

And then we went into a global pandemic and I had a lot of time to figure out who I wanted to be. Digitally I was still doing a lot of drag creature-esque numbers and all of that, but I had this moment where we’re on the front lines getting hit with pepper spray and rubber bullets and pepper spray-all of those lovely things. And I said, I have this platform and I need to start showcasing what’s happening.

Untitled [Queen] stepped in at the right time and messaged me and said, “I’m doing this show for Independence Day called Untitled in America with 52 different performers and I want you to be a part of it.” It was at that moment I was able to take the footage I had been recording on the front lines and incorporate it into digital content. I did a song called Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton that talks about white picket fences, but if you want to see how America is, then you should try being Black like me. The imagery of what’s literally happening in Columbus in that digital performance really spearheaded me into focusing on people who look like me.

Nina Simone is one of my biggest inspirations, and one of her quotes that resonates with me is that it’s the duty of the artist to resonate with the times. My art is politically charged. I like to entertain, but there will definitely be a time when you come to a show expecting to have your drink and be chill and that might not be the case.

How did the name Robyn DaCultyre come about?

I was smoking with Ursula Major, who was on season one of Dragula, and the first time I introduced myself to her I was Robyn Banks, which is my drag name originally. She said, “Well, do you just not want to be original at all?” [Laughs] And I sat with that for a couple of months, and I got really stoned one day and was listening to Janelle Monae, and she talks about doing it for the culture, and I said “I do it for the culture, too!” And the rest is history.

And you started a series called Melanated.

We started Melanated last February. I told the idea to my show director that there were no shows specifically run by Black people that only featured Black entertainers. I wanted to do this show for a night and she said, Why don’t we do it once a week for the whole month? The first show happens, and it’s a sold out crowd, and [my director] comes back and says we should do this every month. So I sucked it up and here we are a year later.

Melanated is the only fully Black show in all of the state. It’s a horrible marketing tool and not something I want to promote, but it is just a fact. It amazes me that we are the 13th largest city in America and there’s nothing here that’s fully focused on Black entertainers. The name also comes from Janelle Monae; she says she’s highly melanated and I said, that works.

Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)

You refer to yourself as a drag creature, as opposed to drag queen or king…

This is actually the first time I’m making this public. I am in this place where I want to separate the alternative creature from who this melanated goddess or whatever is. DaCultyre is definitely the person who runs Melanated and then Robyn is this drag creature that is out of this world and really loves punk and alternative music. And both intertwine to make Robyn DaCultyre.

You also do pageants. Tell me about that.

In 2020 I was appointed by Nina West, who is from Columbus, as the representative from Ohio for National Entertainer of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky. I placed ninth out of 13 contestants and I really fell in love with the system and fell in love with the pageantry and loved the idea of reigning and being different. I want to show that we as alternative performers, as bearded performers, you can come into these systems and shake things up.

Is there a uniquely “Ohio” style of drag?

No, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so amazing is that everyone has their own unique style, and it’s all pretty much accepted. I started as a performer and a drag creature and there was space that was afforded to me and I transitioned to more glamor and pageantry and that’s afforded to me as well. I’ve been a bearded entertainer for a year now. The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone.

I think I have everything I need. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want to bring up, or‚Ķ

I don’t think so. Are there any generic questions you haven’t asked?

Generic questions‚ĶI think I asked all of them already [laughs]. I like to ask what you’d be doing if you weren’t doing drag?

It’s a great question. I have a day job that is very demanding so I need drag to get away. I’m also very creative and artistic. I used to do web design and all these other things to pull into my creativity. Drag is the longest thing I’ve stuck with in all parts of my life, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

John deBary¬†is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book,¬†Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book,¬†Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the¬†Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.