How to Support the Black Community in Chicago Right Now

Do your part.

Courtesy of Hilary Higgins
Courtesy of Hilary Higgins
Courtesy of Hilary Higgins

We are living in turbulent times to say the least. And while change is indeed upon us, the fallout stemming from 2020-the novel coronavirus and its monstrous impact on all aspects of daily life, the intensely divisive political climate and the ever-present threat of violence in our communities, and police shootings that drew attention to the deep-seated effects of racism and implicit bias, to call out just a few examples-is far from over. The year couldn’t have been more overwhelming for us all, emotionally, physically, and, for so many shops, restaurants, and other businesses struggling to survive, financially-and that goes double for Chicagoans of color already dealing with a flawed and unfair system.

This Black History Month, skip the lip-service and put your money (or your talents) where your mouth is by actively supporting BIPOC-powered businesses and organizations right here in Chicago. From pitching in at local nonprofits and community organizations to grabbing take-out from a stellar Black-owned restaurant, here are some of the ways you can safely and productively raise a glass to Black History Month this year.

Give to local nonprofits & community efforts 

Online fundrives are a great place to begin your search. GoFundMe continues to be an excellent resource for tracking down worthy causes, many created and maintained by motivated residents within the community. West Side heavy hitters Earth’s Remedies has given their original Save the West Side, Chicago initiative a 2021 makeover, funnelling new contributions into assisting neighborhood students and their families as they enter another semester of e-learning. Another GoFundMe effort, the Chicago Artists Relief Fund is soliciting donations to fuel a fifth round of microgrants supporting the greater Chicago arts community with priority given to BIPOC applicants. Rebuild the Hood is similarly stepping up to the plate. Committed to revitalizing distressed communities by backing small business and real estate ventures, the 501(c)(3) non profit is attempting to raise $50,000 via their GoFundMe initiative, Black Business Boost: Chicago. “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest as a result of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, it is more important than EVER to unite and agree to rebuild Black owned businesses,” states the group’s Facebook page

If you’d rather roll up your sleeves IRL, scores of like-minded activist collectives and organizations are fighting the good fight online and off. My Block, My Hood, My City, founded by lauded activist Jahmal Cole, has thrown its all behind several different timely initiatives including phone banking for senior wellness calls, PPE distribution in under-resourced communities, roving South Side snow shoveling crews, and youth empowerment programs. Check out the robust website for info on donating, volunteering, and requesting relief for those in need. The kids are front and center over in Englewood where MASK (Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings) is currently seeking smartphone and tablet drop-offs to benefit area e-learners alongside other crucial volunteer-powered measures like combating food insecurity and promoting anti-violence. Fellow Englewood resident I Grow Chicago is following suit, ramping up their aid platforms to specifically address COVID-19’s grave educational impact and establishing even more ways to get involved. Anti-violence champions Increase the Peace are soldiering on with six active South and West Side chapters joining forces to help struggling street vendors, end hunger, and unite Black and Brown Chicagoans, among other pursuits. 
Still looking to make a difference? You’re in luck. The city is literally teeming with other BIPOC-focused organizations, each deeply invested in the battle against systemic racism and open to a helping hand. Hit up grassroots movers and shakers like Assata’s Daughters, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, Circles & Ciphers, Gray Matter Experience, Black Lives Matter Chicago, The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Chicago Community Bail Fund, Good Kids Mad City, The Westside Justice Center, Brave Space Alliance, Equality Should Be Normal, and Chicago Freedom School, among many others, and get to it.


Courtesy of Frontier Chicago
Courtesy of Frontier Chicago
Courtesy of Frontier Chicago

Keep Black-owned restaurants & bars afloat

Chicago’s thriving restaurant industry was brought to its knees last spring due to the COVID pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home order. For establishments owned and operated by folks of color, statewide shutdowns and other dining restrictions add yet another layer of financial distress to the current of inequity that’s run through our country for centuries. That’s why there’s no better time than the present to double down on your support for the city’s vibrant network of Black-owned bars and restaurants.

Just ask acclaimed chef Brian Jupiter, the man behind the magic at Wicker Park and West Town favorites Ina Mae Tavern and Frontier. “In general, Black-owned businesses don’t have the resources of other businesses, they’re dealing with even tighter margins, and a lot of times Black-owned businesses aren’t in the best neighborhoods,” Chef Jupiter tells Thrillist. “For Blacks to have an even playing field, in any business, people need to go out of their way to support them because we’re already outnumbered to begin with. Spend your money where it counts, be an ally, and continue to learn and be better. Not just now, but always.”

For starters, fire up your smartphone. Download the eatOkra app, a slickly designed guide to Black-owned hotspots in your area. Each listing features reviews and other details as well as links to online delivery and takeout options. Black People Eats provides another comprehensive dining directory while Seasoned and Blessed founder Aaron Oliver went so far as to compile an interactive map to help keep hungry Chicagoans’ eyes on the community-minded prize. And if social media is your thing, be sure to follow accounts like @officialchicagobrw and @blackfandb for all the latest BIPOC foodie news and updates. 

You can also feed your soul by donating directly to Black-owned restaurants and bars in need. While not exclusively devoted to POC-run businesses, it’s easy to access your favorite area eatery’s GoFundMe campaign (or submit a missing business to the list) by sifting through this ultra-handy fundraising database. It might seem basic, but this form of crowd-funding has proven over and over again to be fast, effective, and meaningful. 

A longtime vocal advocate for diversity within the hospitality industry, Causing a Stir is another fantastic resource for learning how to get involved in supporting Black-owned businesses and workers around Chicago and beyond. Co-founders and accomplished bartenders Alexis Brown and Ariel Neil have spent years promoting inclusion and spurring critical discussion about race and gender behind the bar on both a local and national scale.

Lastly, keep your ears tuned for upcoming restaurant pop-ups and other culinary events celebrating Black History Month. Friendly neighborhood supermarket Mariano’s is first on deck with their Virtual Tastemaker series, an month-long lineup featuring talks and cooking demos with top BIPOC industry pros including Dirty Birds Southern Kitchen’s chef James Sanders, Mariano’s own chef Lamar Moore, Itiona Scott of Essie Marie’s Dressings & Marinades, and legendary chef Brian Jupiter of Ina Mae Tavern and Frontier fame. Read up on the participants and reserve your spot here.


Semicolon Bookstore
Semicolon Bookstore
Semicolon Bookstore

Stock up on gear from local retailers

Like their cuisine-inclined counterparts, Chicago’s Black-owned retail shops could also use an extra dose of love these days. Thankfully, area do-gooders have been coming together to compile handy-dandy databases highlighting hundreds of Black-owned businesses around the city. Instagram’s @chicagoismyboyfriend has been keeping a running tab both in her Stories feed as well as via this super impressive neighborhood-specific spreadsheet. Black Nation takes things a step further with their user-friendly business discovery app, which makes connecting with nearby Black-owned businesses of all kinds as easy as pie. And Tanikia Carpenter’s Black Owned Chicago has been serving as a valuable resource for shoppers set on patronizing Black-owned businesses from spas and nail salons to clothing boutiques since its start back in 2016.

In light of slowing foot traffic and COVID-related closures, gift cards are another helpful way to back Chicago’s proprietors of color. Semicolon on North Halstead, Chicago’s only Black woman-owned bookstore and gallery space, offers e-gift cards through their website that are redeemable both in-store and online (pro tip: Don’t sleep on #CleartheShelves, the shop’s amazing fundraiser benefiting CPS students). Hyde Park creative hub The Silver Room also offers gift cards-in addition to a giant online shopping selection and dope virtual performances-with proceeds going toward furthering the eclectic institution’s two-decade-long mission to unite and inspire local makers through events and community building.


More ways to help?

Check out a list of national organizations we’ve compiled here. If you have thoughts on other businesses you’d like to see included in our local stories, please email [email protected].

Meredith Heil is a contributor for Thrillist. 


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.

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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.


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