Barbecues are a staple of American culture. They have the unique ability to pull people together, to build community, and to create an inexplicable sense of positivity. For Tamica Barnett, barbecues have the potential for so much more – an opportunity to uplift communities while creating a newfound sense of understanding and comradery.
Barnett, Syracuse’s first Black, female firefighter to hold the rank of lieutenant, is also the only female grill master in the Syracuse area. Using her talent and passion for soul food, she established Who Want Smoke BBQ and Catering, a catering and food delivery business whose tasty goodness has filled the bellies and hearts of Syracuse residents. For Barnett, her food is a representation and symbol of Black history and pride.
“The history of Black people and food is that they gather over meals, they cope—that’s how they come together as a family and that’s how they bond,” said Barnett.
Barnett saw an opportunity to go a step further, however. Motivated to bring people together and to uplift her community, she collaborated with local youth to highlight Black excellence during Black History Month. Students from a number of local high schools conducted interviews and created a magazine highlighting local Black leaders.
The magazine featured pieces about Syracuse Common Council President, Helen Hudson, Al-amin Muhammad, founder of the nonprofit We Rise Above the Streets, and many others. The project gave youth the opportunity to network with the leaders and learn about the opportunities that are attainable to achieve Black excellence and success.
The students helped prepare meals in the kitchen and distributed the magazines alongside Barnett’s classic smoked chicken, collard greens, and ribs – all provided free of charge. Just like she intended, community members came together to celebrate Black History Month while enjoying a home cooked meal.
As Star Ruffin, a middle school student in the East Syracuse Minoa Central School District who worked on the magazine said, “I feel like Black History Month is all about the culture, helping others and supporting the community. I wanted to talk about how great these people are.”
In order to fund her endeavors, Barnett applied for aid through the Black Equity and Excellence Fund at the Community Foundation. She was provided with a grant from the fund to support her community commitment and vision.
Darrell Buckingham, program officer at the Community Foundation, said that Barnett’s efforts have been a valuable asset to the Black community.
“I think it shows that there are businesses out here that are sometimes for-profit but also use their time, skill and talent to give back to the community. That, in essence, is the excellence of who we are,” Buckingham said.