by Jena Harris and Suzanna Urminska
"In every race, in every nation and in every clime in every period of history there is always an eager-eyed group of youthful patriots who seriously set themselves to right the wrongs done to their race, or nation or sect or sometimes to art of self-expression. No race or nation can advance without them."
- Alice Dunbar-Nelson, "Woman’s Most Serious Problem," The Messenger, Vol. 9, no. 3, March 1927
In these times of inauguration and insurrection, possibility and protest, each story told by those who came before us is ripe for reflection.
Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935), an author and activist whose life and work is the subject of the Rosenbach’s current exhibition “I Am An American!”: The Authorship and Activism of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and a key feature of the Free Library’s current exhibit Making Her Mark: Philadelphia Women Fight for the Vote, leaves a legacy of movement-building that is deeply personal and political. For Dunbar-Nelson, advancing social change was integral to her whole self and to her understanding of those who came before her.
Today’s movement leaders, such as chef Jena Harris of BunnyHopPHL, connect strategies to the present while drawing on the rich history of mutual aid and radical self care. On February 11, chef Jena co-presents an evening of sustaining food and drink as part of guided exploration of self care grounded in the salon-style traditions of the Harlem Renaissance – registration is free and available online via Eventbrite.
Chef Jena began collaborating to distribute food and other daily necessities as a response to community asks for mutual aid. As chef Jena and co-founder Katie Briggs explain,
"We always want to be serving our neighbors with dignity and respect, centering the leadership of BI&POC in our work and continually seeking ways to effectively connect with our neighbors near and far."
As Philadelphia began to confirm cases of Covid-19 in the spring of 2020, BunnyHopPHL grew to an organization feeding over 350 families a week. Through this work, chef Jena lifts up a time-honored tradition in which the essentials that everyone deserves can be accessed through a people-powered approach that prioritizes dignity, lived experiences, and our many interconnections.
At its core, everyday acts of self care—eating slowly, resting, reconnecting with community—are powerful tools for transformation and regeneration.
The recipe below, courtesy of chef Jena, is meant for you to make your own: share with loved ones or savor as a solo meal. Settle into your senses: turn on some tunes and as the aroma of each ingredient fills your kitchen, let this sauce nourish your eager-eyed self.
Tomato Basil Sauce
Alter this recipe to suit your needs: switch it up with different herbs or throw a parmesan rind in with your broth to add another layer of flavor.
- Olive Oil
- Onion (diced)
- Garlic (chopped)
- Tomato Paste
- Fresh or Canned Tomatoes (chopped or whole, it’s up to you)
- Vegetable Broth or Water
- Fresh or Dried Basil
- A pot with a heavy bottom
- Large spoon
- Blender (optional)
- Put your pot on the stove and add some olive oil. Then turn the stove to medium, and once the oil is hot, add your onions and some salt to sweat them out. Cook and stir occasionally until the onions are translucent (~10 minutes).
- Add garlic to the pot and once it is fragrant (~2 minutes), add your tomato paste and mix the ingredients well before adding tomatoes. Then add enough broth or water so that you just see the top of the tomatoes.
- Cook everything, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Then add basil and cook for 5-10 minutes more until the sauce thickens. Cook fresh tomatoes a bit longer than canned.
- At this point, you can use a blender if you want a more pureed sauce, or leave as-is, according to your taste.
*A note from chef Jena: I didn’t put portions because sometimes I make a little bit of sauce and sometimes I make a lot, but either way it comes out delicious and perfect to use for your favorite dish!
For more recipes and conversation, join us online in a shared salon-style space for self care inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and the life and legacy of Alice Dunbar-Nelson on Thursday, February 11 beginning at 7:00 p.m. Register for free via Eventbrite. This free, interactive program is a collaboration with the Rosenbach's I Am an American! exhibit and the Free Library's Making Her Mark exhibit—both of which highlight the life and legacy of Alice Dunbar-Nelson. For more information, visit freelibrary.org/exhibitions and alicedunbarnelson.com.