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A speaker addressed protestors at an Earth Day rally in Schenley Plaza on Monday.
‘Reclaim Earth Day’ protest calls for Pitt to divest from fossil fuels
By Kyra McCague, Staff Writer • April 24, 2024
Stephany Andrade: The Steve Jobs of education
By Thomas Riley, Opinions Editor • April 24, 2024
The best cafés to caffeinate and cram for finals
By Irene Castillo, Senior Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Pittsburgh gets a taste of community with the annual Soul Food Festival

Festivalgoers+stand+near+a+food+stand+at+Pittsburghs+Soul+Food+Festival+this+past+weekend+in+Market+Square.
Lucas Zheng | Senior Staff Photographer
Festivalgoers stand near a food stand at Pittsburgh’s Soul Food Festival this past weekend in Market Square.

Between the scrumptious aroma of home-cooked foods and the joyous sounds of local musicians, residents immersed themselves in the overwhelming sense of community that radiated from the Soul Food Festival in downtown Pittsburgh. 

Stop The Violence Pittsburgh, an effort established in 2013 that aimed to enrich the lives of African Americans in Pittsburgh, organized the festival. The event took place this past weekend from Friday morning to Sunday evening and highlighted over 70 small vendors and food services. Vendors served a variety of foods ranging from pulled pork sandwiches and loaded mac and cheeses to Creole and African cuisines. In addition, there were several R&B and hip-hop performers that provided free entertainment for all attendees.

This event was one of several festivals produced by Stop TheViolence PGH. An estimated 30,000 people from all over the country attended throughout the weekend.

William Marshall, producer of the Soul Food Festival, said he started the festival as part of a series of fests to highlight local business owners inspired by similar events that were taking place across the country.

“We started this festival in 2019. I created about four different festivals. I created the Juneteenth celebration in 2013, then I created a Youth Juneteenth Celebration in 2018,” Marshall said. “I then created a Black Music Festival in 2018. Then in 2019, after we learned about various entrepreneurs in and outside Pittsburgh, we decided to do a soul food festival. Soul food festivals were all across the country — so we figured why not here in Pittsburgh?”

Marshall said he specifically selected Market Square as the location for his festivals after learning about the deep rooted Black history in Pittsburgh, including prominent figures Benjamin Richards and Reverend John C. Peck.

“We had all the vendors and all I needed was a location. We started the original Juneteenth in 2013, and it was inside of Market Square,” Marshall said. “But it wasn’t until later that I ended up learning about Benjamin Richards and Charles Richards and Reverend John C. Peck. Benjamin Richards owned the property that is now PPG Plaza. He was one of the richest men in Allegheny County, and he was a Black man.”

Marshall said after he discovered this history, he wanted to acknowledge it through the events he was producing. 

“Richards had several businesses inside of Market Square. Reverend John C. Peck opened up the original Oyster House on Third Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh inside of Market Square,” Marshall said. “When I learned all of that history, I said to myself we’re going to bring that back. We’re going to do something down here and honor these people here.”

David Ellis, known as Chef David, owner of Chef N’ABox and vendor at the festival said that the point of soul food is the love and generational history that goes into it.

“My grandma is from down south and from spending a lot of time at home with her I’ve learned to cook southern soul food,” Ellis said. “What a lot of people don’t understand is that soul food is from the heart. When I create my food I try to please everybody that I serve as a family — no matter what color you are, or anything else. I’m going to give you something that I would give to my family, or my child, or any of my loved ones. It’s from the soul.”

Larry Hutch, keyboard player for the Bill Henry Band and performer at the festival, said the band likes to spread the sentiments of love and community through their music.

“More than anything we just like to share love and show love as a band and as brothers,” Hutch said. “We enjoy the people that come up to support us and really want to show that comradery is not something that’s forgotten. We’re here showing love.”

Ellis said that the Soul Food Festival pushes back on the stereotypes many people have about certain areas of Pittsburgh.

“A lot of people get discouraged by the Soul Food Fest because Downtown has a bad name sometimes, South Side has a bad name,” Ellis said. “There is drama everywhere, but there is not drama here at the food fest. I want everyone to know that.”

Bill Henry, lead vocalist for the Bill Henry Band, said major media outlets and the City of Pittsburgh as a whole could do a better job of advertising events like these across the media.

“I think Pittsburgh in general, and this event included, needs help with promotions. It would be great to see this event promoted on most of the major networks,” Hutch said. “Sometimes things do get promoted but when they do, they get promoted so late in the game that by the time you know about it, it’s either happening or already happened. As a city I just think we need to do better.”

Marshall said the media coverage of the weekend and future events should be more balanced. 

“During this weekend, what’s also going on is Ribfest. So if you look at TV and media coverage, you will see everyone talking about the Ribfest, but you won’t see too much TV coverage about the Soul Food Festival. It’s just a bias with the people who run the stations obviously,” Marshall said. “There should be more coverage because what we try to do is create peace within the community.”

Marshall said Stop The Violence PGH was successful in spreading peace through these festivals. The mayor recognized this at this summer’s past Juneteenth event, where no violence occurred over the duration of the entire festival.

“It’s a phenomenal feat because everybody recognizes that this is a joyful time,” Marshall said. “When we have these celebrations we bring different communities together, and different ethnic groups and everybody enjoys the festival. It’s just one big family.”

Marshall said the festival cultivates strength amongst the Pittsburgh community that is demonstrated through the participation of multiple generations of families.

“What makes us happy is seeing the comradery and the joy it brings to the community. You can see that’s the benefit that we get out of it. You see people coming together in a peaceful environment and how it takes some of the stress off of everyday life,” Marshall said. “That’s what these festivals do for the community.”

About the Contributor
Gabriella Garvin, Senior Staff Writer
Gabriella is a junior economics and philosophy major with a minor in French and law, criminal justice and society. She loves to try making new recipes and read, and she will talk about Philly any chance she gets.