More Than A Brunch, The Black And Brown Babes Are A Community
AND BROWN BABES CHICAGO.
Creating Safe Spaces For Chicago's People Of Color
Since May of 2016, the DIY scene in Chicago has been undergoing a refreshing change of climate— a shift keenly marked by that of Rae Bees and Rosalyn Westerfield, the founders of The Black and Brown Babes Collective. After the collective’s inception, Ros and Rae began hosting a series of potlucks around the city. If you've been fortunate enough to attend one of their famed soirees, then you've experienced why The Black and Brown Babes Brunch has become such a cherished gathering over the past year or so. The Black and Brown Babes not only seek to strengthen ties between POC from all backgrounds, they also strive to unite them.
To do this, The Black and Brown Babes make sure to host events in various neighborhoods throughout the city. Whether you're a nerd from Humboldt Park, a lawyer near Lake Shore, or an artist in Pilsen, chances are The Babes have hit your part of town. Aside from their brunches, live shows, and their Incantations party series with Sunset Society, Ros and Rae do fundraisers as well. By way of their Our Love//Our Work Will Prevail event, The Black and Brown Babes raised $10,000 for Swing Left with the help of Cole's Bar this past May. These kinds of chops don't get sharpened overnight. Rae and Rosalyn are longtime members of Chicago DIY and they're happy to serve the community.
"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it,
change your attitude."
- Maya Angelou
As members of the DIY scene, Ros and Rae became friends after frequenting many of the same shows around 2013. It didn't take much for them to remember one another, as they were some of the only womyn of color attending these events. Even though they went as far as opening up their own homes to the DIY culture, they never truly felt accepted. Rosalyn recollects well,"It was honestly astonishing at first, but over time not so much. I couldn't tell you how many white people or just people in general, would come into my home when I have a show going on, and ask me what I'm doing there," "Yeah they never expect you to live there," Rae chimed as Ros continued, "Living there, doing the show. Like, that shit used to piss me off!" It kind of sucks not seeing yourself depicted on the stage, or in the crowd of a space you call home. Seeing the same cycles of bands, people, mentalities. It sucks, even more, when you know the scene you love is by no means fully represented. Much like the words of the late Maya Angelou, Rosalyn and Rae saw something they didn't like and changed it.
What began as a tool of empowerment solely for womyn of color has since grown to include black and brown babes of all genders, lifestyles, and creeds. Together, Rae and Rosalyn transformed their events into a network of free, like-minded thinkers. By doing so, their movement expanded from a simple gathering to a community of resources in just under two years. What we see today are the DIY fruits of two womyn of color from vastly different walks of life. This circumstance happens to be the very force guiding The Black and Brown Babes Collective to new heights. I sat down with Ros and Rae to discuss the future of the collective. To do so, I thought it best to learn about their respective journeys to self-discovery first.
“If I didn't have all those people around me teaching me how to empathize with other people's journeys, I wouldn't be able to do what I do.”
I met them at Rosalyn's new place in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood (a good minute from her previous home in Logan Square). For the record, Rosalyn Westerfield, is in fact, not from the south side of Chicago, "Uh, no! I'm not from the south side Franky! Uh...West Side ‘til I die, thank you," she asserted laughingly. Reflecting on her life coming up in the Austin neighborhood, she was sure to credit Uncle Remus as the superior to Harold's Chicken. Along with five of her siblings, Rosalyn grew up with an additional ten foster brothers who lived in the group home ran by her grandparents next door. It was through her unconventional family that Rosalyn says she became receptive to people of various backgrounds, “If I didn't have all those people around me teaching me how to empathize with other people's journeys, I wouldn't be able to do what I do.”
“Coming up here has been
really helpful for me as far as grasping my identity, but it's still something I'm working on every day."
"So where did you grow up," I asked, looking to Rae on my right. At first, we both joked about her hometown that lies just north of West Palm Beach, Florida. Then she told me, just how different it really was, "Yeah it's definitely different but, it's also different growing up with a redneck, Jewish-Italian family too, so, yeah, I'm adopted." Rae reflecting on her childhood meant grappling with her identity as a black womyn, a war she's been winning since making the move to Chicago six years ago, “Coming up here has been really helpful for me as far as grasping my identity, but it's still something I'm working on every day." Even so, to never be acknowledged for who you are, by the people who raised you, is a wound not easily healed. Finding other POC with a history like herself has certainly helped along this journey, all thanks to the brunch. Thankfully, both Rae and Rosalyn are well aware of this fact. It's apart of what drives them to take The Black and Brown Babes even further.
As far as 2018 is concerned, The Black Brown Babes Collective have big plans coming. By way of their Facebook group 'Black and Brown Babes Chicago'. The collective already serves as a network to POC searching for anything from apartments, photographers, to hairstylists. Regarding their expansion, Rae and Rosalyn plan to launch an official Black and Brown Babes website sometime next year. As the organizers of the collective, Rae and Ros hope to offer the community even more over time, "I think of everyone involved as part of the collective." Rae explained, "they're helping us shape where we should go, what we should do. We like hearing that feedback from everyone." Whether it be self-defense training or swim classes, The Black and Brown Babes Collective wish to build their community based on the needs and wants of the people who support it. In addition to a directory of musicians, web designers, and artists for hire, the new site will feature a blog highlighting the many creatives within the group. With even bigger events in the works for next year, the collective will continue creating safe spaces filled with love, understanding, and self-care like they always have.