October , 2018

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 By Chinta Strausberg


Three huge buses were parked on the north side of Hardtime Josephine’s Cooking Restaurant Sunday afternoon where inside more than 145 students and faculty from Hope College were chowing down on a variety of soul food dishes as part of a cultural diversity program aimed at exposing them to a black-owned eatery in the heart of the African American community.

The students are enrolled in the Hope College’s Phelps Scholars Program that teaches them how to cope in a diverse world and the importance of respecting cultural differences.

This year, the students were invited to eat at the restaurant, located in the Chatham community, by Andrea Brookins, the daughter of former Illinois Senator Howard Brookins who owns the Brookins Funeral Home. Andrea, a funeral director at her dad’s funeral home, is the mother of Arifa, who is a junior at Hope College majoring in art education.

Referring to Trinity United Church of Christ, Andrea Brookins said, “For the past three-years, the students have been going Trinity. They worshiped there earlier this morning. The students first started coming here with one bus. Last year, they had two busloads and now three. It is one of the most popular trips they have ever had. One of the ministers at Trinity would speak to the students about worship service and the African American experience at Trinity.

“This year, I invited them to visit a black restaurant in a black community,” said Andrea Brookins. “The entire experience at both the church and especially at the restaurant was one of the highlights for all the kids. They enjoyed being in the heart of the black community where many of them have never been. I was a good experience,” she said.

“They enjoyed the food and the cultural differences. I found many of them sampling foods they never tasted before in fact some of them didn’t know what the various dishes were.”

“As a mother, I am ecstatic that my child could encourage something like this and to make such a difference in moving people in their faith, in their willingness to try new things” including having them eat in a black restaurant in an African American community. I am glad they experience the variety of food, too. It was a great time,” said Andrea Brookins who is a funeral director at her father’s funeral home.

A board member of the Hope College Parent’s Council, she said, “As part of my speaking out in favor of diversity and being a liaison to the students, to the board, to the college and to the parents, it is important for the students to learn diversity because in order to function, to grow and to decide what is comfortable or not comfortable, you have to go outside of your boundaries.

“And, that is what the college is trying to teach the students to reach outside of their bubble, and experience new thoughts and new cultural experiences and today the students achieved that,” she said.

Josephine Wade, the co-owner of Hardtime Josephine’s Cooking Restaurant, who was shocked that most of the students were white, said she was pleased at the turnout and the lessons they learned in cultural diversity and ethnic cooking. She was especially impressed with psychology professor Charles Green who heads the school’s Phelps Scholar program.

“He’s from Arkansas and he’s very familiar with eating greens,” said Wade referring to Green who did pile on the greens. Wade said she was very proud of both the students and Professor Green.

Michael Brown, the program coordinator of the program, closely monitored the students and ate only after all of them were sitting and eating. Many of the students were asking the names of the dishes and especially liked Wade’s peach cobbler, the ice cream, the potatoes, fish, chicken and banana and bread pudding. The food had to be replenished several times because the students had seconds and third helpings.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.

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