In 2014, Kai Avent-deLeon opened Sincerely, Tommy, a concept store in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, with the intention of featuring emerging designers and artists—many of whom had never sold their wares in a brick-and-mortar shop before. Avent-deLeon carried that same spirit into her latest project, Building Black Bed Stuy, which she launched with Allure fashion and creative director Rajni Jacques and dancer Nana Yaa Asare Boadu over the summer. Their idea was to bring local artisans together for a weekly marketplace outside of Sincerely, Tommy, and create a crowdsourcing BBB GoFundMe page, with proceeds donated to the community organizations Black Power Blueprint, Life Wellness Center, and the Watoto Freeschool. Building Black Bed Stuy was formed in response to the gentrification of Black communities—an urgent issue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, an area where the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted income, wealth, and social disparities even further.
Jacques, whose parents both immigrated to the United States from Haiti, experienced a distinctly “Caribbean upbringing,” she says; Western holidays were mixed with the traditions from her mother and father’s homeland. When Jacques was young, her mother would make ham for Christmas, “because when they came to this country, they felt that they had to blend in a bit,” she explains from her home in Brooklyn. “But the dishes outside of that would be potato gratin, griyo, or diri djon djon, which is rice and green beans cooked with Haitian black mushrooms. For the most part, our food was different, but the sentiment of the holidays—being with your family and getting to know them a little better—was the same.”
“My family and I have always created our own holidays that represent our own beliefs and values,” Avent-deLeon adds. “Now that I have a son, it’s important to me that he knows he has the freedom to choose what he ritualizes. My mom joins an ongoing protest held every year at Plymouth Rock to honor the Indigenous people of America. My son and I joined her for the first time this year. Around Indigenous Peoples’ Day we pour libation, leave an offering to the ancestors, and give thanks to them for their work and sacrifices. This month was Black Solidarity Day, and we honored our heritage by sharing readings from past freedom fighters like Malcolm X and Amos Wilson.”
The Building Black Bed Stuy gift guide features ephemera from the kinds of brands that you might find at Sincerely, Tommy: handcrafted, one-of-one pieces from rising designers of color. Jacques included items from Nur Ceramics, made by Sudanese and Somalian ceramicist Dina Nur Satti. There’s also the beauty brand Kreyòl Essence, a Black-owned company whose products use castor oil, or lwil maskriti. “It is such a huge heart of being Haitian,” she says. “For every Haitian mom, lwil maskriti was the go-to. It could cure any ailment—you have a boo-boo? Put lwil maskriti on. Your hair needs moisture? Put lwil maskriti on.”
Jacques says she’s also fully leaned into her love of interior design, making her home comfortable for the winter ahead. She’s been furnishing it with “really well-designed chairs that you can cozy up and watch a movie on or read a book,” and “aesthetically pleasing baskets that I can throw my kids’ toys and other nonsense in.”
For both Avent-deLeon and Jacques, though, spending time with family—and oneself—is more important than any material good. “This year has been a wonderful time for stillness and introspection, so I will continue to live mindfully and intentionally,” Avent-deLeon says.