Correction: A previous version of this story listed Ron Jackson as an instructor for the UK Center for Appalachian Research and Environmental Sciences. Jackson is an instructor for the UK Center for Academic Resources and Enrichment Services. The error has been corrected. (Feb. 28, 2024)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Fresh produce, fellowship and history are guiding students at the University of Kentucky’s Food Connection and it’s all for one special meal inspired by African American culture.  

What You Need To Know

  • University of Kentucky student celebrated Black History Month with a southern-themed meal and a showing of "The Color Purple"

  • Students from The Food Connection at UK and the UK Center for Academic Resources and Enrichment Services attended the event

  • UK Cares helps underrepresented groups of students to encourage a healthy college experience

Jakayla Allen is a sophomore agriculture and finance student almost 700 miles from home where she says Sunday dinners with mom’s home-cooked meals were mandatory.

“So I was always in the kitchen helping and I would always insist on chopping all the vegetables and just be her little helper. So I spent probably about 18 years doing that,” Allen said. 

It’s a tradition of cooking, gathering around a dinner table with homemade dishes, and family time at its core. She says it’s something that’s showcased in the film “The Color Purple” which tells the experiences of Black people, specifically Black women, during the early 1900s. 

Allen says the film shows the significance of food prep, mealtime, and more in African-American households.

“This is the way things were. But at the core of it all, even with all the problems, they were still able to come together over food. Even the most important scenes where Celie has her big speech there at the dinner table,” Allen explained. “They’re talking about it. And I think that says a lot about the black culture of the fact that we’re even doing all of our tough times. We’re still able to come together over a good plate of food.”

Students like Keijuan Pryor at UK’s Food Connection prepared a southern-themed meal with fresh produce from local Black farmers. (Spectrum News 1/Sabriel Metcalf)

It’s why she and a room full of students joined chef Tanya Whitehouse to create a Black southern-themed meal. 

The purpose is to highlight and celebrate matriarchs, Black farmers and Black culture for February, with Women’s History Month around the corner. 

“In ‘The Color Purple’, as you know, they were on a rural farm. They grew all their food. So we’re modeling that dynamic by all the food that we’re making is grown locally and brought in very fresh,” UK Center for Academic Resources and Enrichment Services instructor Ron Jackson explained. “And we’re making things like hot water, cornbread, and utilizing cornmeal from right in this area.” 

Freshman Keijuan Pryor is part of UK Cares and the William C. Parker scholarship program, part of the reason he attended the event. “Went to care to do my weekly study hour, and Mr. Ron brought it up to us and told us that we should just come out and try it,” Pryor said. 

Both he and Allen are excited to be experiencing a bit of their cultural background, history and values on campus. 

Allen explained sometimes it's difficult to find her cultural values at a predominantly white institution. “It can get lost a little bit. So it’s nice to be able to like, reconnect like with our culture and just do things that are inspired from that,” she said.