11th Annual Taste of Soul Family Festival: Simply… BEAUTIFUL!! (Photo by Robert Gladden, Artwork by Angela Howard)

“I can dream and I can dream big, but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that Taste of Soul would turn into the institution it has now become,” said TOS Founder/Creator, Bakewell Media Founder and CEO Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., who calls the event a “party with a purpose.”

On Saturday, October 15, hundreds of thousands of people lined Crenshaw Boulevard once again to take part in one of Southern California’s largest gatherings of family, friends, community leaders, city officials and vendors. 2016 marks the 11th year of Taste of Soul, presented by Bakewell Media to highlight businesses in the Black community, bringing together loved ones to enjoy food and live entertainment. Most importantly however, it was created to show the community’s positive side.

“The Crenshaw District is on fire for community, culture and fellowship today and that’s why I’m here,” said Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas the day of the event.

“We are here and we are turned up for progress. This is the best networking, employment, food fair I have heard of.

We are turned all the way up together, this is an important year and if we just vote, we gonna be alright,” he added, referring to the significance the Black community will hold this election year.

Recently, both Black men and women have been the target of police brutality and trending hashtags on social media.

The Republican candidate for President, Donald Trump, believes stop-and-frisk is the appropriate way to handle the community’s relationship with police officers. Events like the Taste of Soul, which since its inception has taken place without incident, has helped to defy stereotypes and negative preconceived notions about Black culture.

“Taste of Soul is more than just a festival,” said Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson.

“It is a demonstration of all that is good within the Black Community. It has become a celebration of ourselves, our community, our culture, our family, our struggles, and our ability to continue forward no matter what the challenges may be.”

“This event for this community means hope. It means encouragement,” said Eulanda Lynn Matthews of the Ivie, McNeil and Wyatt law firm, a TOS partner.

“It’s showing people, especially those in our community that we are business owners, we are professionals, that we know how to come together as a people and do something for pure enjoyment without any incident, without any violence…”

“This is something that gives people the opportunity to see the great things happening in Los Angeles,” said State Assembly member Mike Gipson.

“It’s just a big family affair. We network, we fellowship, we connect with old acquaintances. It’s great for the entire Los Angeles City and County area.”

“It’s been a great experience,” said Ngoma Ali who has been a part of TOS nation since 2006.

“There have never been any two Taste of Souls alike, so it’s always a different experience.”

This year, TOS nation had the chance to experience both new and old booth vendors. Attendees had the chance to choose from African, American, BBQ and Soul, Creole and Jamaican, Mexican style food, peach cobblers, cupcakes, ice creams, pies, slushies, clothing, jewelry and more.

Taste of Soul partners include Mothers In Action, Brotherhood Crusade, city of L.A., L.A. county, Radio FREE 102.3 KJLH, 94.7 The WAVE, KCBS 2, AAUC and Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt.

“Taste of Soul could not and would not be the ‘free’ day of family and fun that it is without the help of corporate partners who help underwrite many of the costs for Taste of Soul,” said Pamela Bakewell, COO of The Bakewell Company.

“The city of Los Angeles and especially Council President Herb Wesson, Marqueece Harris Dawson, Curren Price and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas are truly our partners in bringing this wonderful event to the community.”

Sponsors included: Chevy, LA County, City of LA, Hep C Hope, McDonald’s, South Coast Air Quality Management District, Walsh/Shea, Metro, Fox Audience Strategy, PWA Los Angeles, Wells Fargo, Airbnb, USC, Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, Chase Bank, California Resources Corporation, Metropolitan Water District, SEIU Local 2015, Watts Health, Nielsen, US Bank, Uber, Charles Drew University, American Heart Association, Metro Health Station, Comerica Bank, Los Angeles World Airports, UCLA Health, Walmart, Kaiser Permanente, LADWP, Metro PCS, Cedars-Sinai, Hyundai, AT&T, Easy Choice Health Plan, Whole Foods, New York Life, St. Vincent’s IPA, Southern California Gas Company, UCLA, CA Lottery, Californians for Energy Independence and California Legislative Black Caucus.

“A Special thank you goes to LAFD, LAPD and Able Solutions for keeping Taste of Soul a safe and fun-filled event for the last 11 years,” said TOS officials.

“By 3am, with the help of Los Angeles Sanitation, The Department of Transportation and Walsh Shea Construction, Crenshaw Boulevard was back to normal and no one would have known that hours earlier over 350,000 people were eating, singing, dancing and just celebrating life in South Los Angeles…”

Dale Bonner, executive chairman of U.S. operations for the Plenary Group, was the VIP Courtesy Tent sponsor on the day of TOS. He shared a little about his business and working with the festival.

“We are in the business of designing buildings and maintaining infrastructure,” said Bonner.

“We always try to understand the communities that we serve. So an event like today is a great opportunity to go out and be a part of the community for a day, so that we understand the needs and interests of the communities that we want to serve.”

“Taste of Soul takes me back to family,” said Michelle Victorian of Mrs. Bea’s Louisiana Chicken and Waffles, who catered as well as sponsored the VIP tent.

“Like most families, conversations are built around a meal, sitting down and breaking bread together, and enjoying each other’s company. Whether we do it on Sundays or holidays. Taste of Soul is an annual event like Christmas, Thanksgiving where we come together, appreciate one another, enjoy good food, good music and just have a great time.”

Those lucky enough to dine under the tent enjoyed a meal of Bea’s fried chicken wings, legs, breast tender strips, collard greens, red beans and rice, candied yams, buttermilk and cornbread waffles topped off by white chocolate covered popcorn, homemade tea cakes and lemon cake.

To wash it down, diners were provided with lemonade from Pucker Up and high end waters from Refresh.

Two out of town patrons summed it up nicely.

“Coming from out of town, this lets us know that there is a good sense of community here in Los Angeles and that is something that is important to us as a family,” said Courtney and Aaron Walker, who heard about the event on the radio.

“We will absolutely be back next year.”