By Dijon Rolle, USAG Baden Wuerttemberg Public AffairsFebruary 24, 2010
HEIDELBERG, Germany - "Big Money" Brown's famous gumbo, German chocolate earthquake cake, barbecue pig feet, colorful artwork, powerful poetry and the smooth sounds of Stevie Wonder.
Those were just a few of the sights, sounds and smells that seduced the senses, of the large crowd gathered in the Patrick Henry Village Pavilion Ballroom, for the U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg Arts and Cultural Center sponsored event, "A Taste of Soul."
The celebration was one of several happening in the USAG Heidelberg community in honor of Black History Month.
U.S. Army Garrison Baden WAfA1/4rttemberg's Command Sergeant Major, Command Sgt. Maj. Annette Weber, served as mistress of ceremonies for the evening.
One of her first official duties of the night was introducing local artists, Crystal Malloy, Marc Francisco and Andrew Washington to the crowd.
Their artwork greeted guests as they entered the ballroom.
The three individual collections each featured rich and vivid images of African-American life past and present.
Malloy has no formal art training and she's spent most of her adult life in Germany after coming here in 1969 with her mother.
"I'm here to not only celebrate Black History month, but also because I want people to know that there are African- American artists here in Europe, that we exist, that we live and work here among them. We're a part of the community," Malloy said.
"When you see something online or in a book, it's not the same as when you can walk in and stand two feet away from a piece and have it speak to you and that's my thing because I consider myself a spiritual artist. I paint from the spirit. "
Next, it was time to enjoy a well known staple of the African-American culture - soul food. Guests piled their plates with samples of homemade macaroni and cheese, collard greens, chicken salad, fried catfish, pinto beans with smoked ham hocks, corn pudding, red velvet cake, banana pudding and much more.
After sampling each dish they would have the tough job of deciding which one was the best.
One of the cooks, Master Sgt. Marshall Brown, remained tight-lipped about the exact ingredients contained in his "Big Money" Brown's famous gumbo, as he scooped out steaming bowls of the savory spicy concoction to the long line of hungry guests.
"Oh it's a little bit of this, and a little bit of that," he laughed. But, he did reveal why he decided to participate.
"I love to cook and...this is food that I've grown up with. This is our history. So when I heard about this, I saw it as a way for me to get in here and show my skills and feed the people" said Brown.
Also showing off their skills in the kitchen were the ladies of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.
"One of the things we do is community service and so we wanted to come out and serve the community, celebrate African-American Heritage month...and encourage others to also come out," Lt. Col. Renee Nelson said.
"I think this is awesome and I think that this is a way of connecting to the community, and letting those that are not African-American see another side of us. To see our culture. To taste our food and to fellowship," she said.
Aisha Thibodeaux was one of the many folks who came out to enjoy the art, music, poetry and, of course, the soul food.
"The food was really good and I think that it was great that they had the tasting with a little bit of everything. That made it personal and you can tell that people put a lot of effort into it, and that's the whole concept of the soul food. That's what makes it good. I enjoyed everything" said Thibodeaux.
While Thibodeaux and many others agreed, that all of the dishes were delicious, there could only be one first place winner, and that was Bonnie Ballard's nutty fruity cake, followed by Nikki Clark's German chocolate earthquake cake in second and Gladys William's barbecue pigs feet taking third.
In addition to the food and art, the crowd was also treated to poetry from members of the Heidelberg Poetry Club and the sounds of live jazz and rhythm and blues music from Jimi's Souliquity.
The band performed a melody of hits from the Motown era, along with other soul favorites. Afterwards, a live DJ kept the crowd moving and grooving well past mid-night.
"I'm really proud, everything went extremely well... better then what I expected," said Jen Bieser, director of the Heidelberg Arts and Cultural Center and mastermind behind the event.
She said she hopes to make "A Taste of Soul" an annual celebration.
"A lot of the facility directors come up with great ideas and great programs and they want to do it, and sometimes the community just does not react, but with this event, the community really got into it...the success was from the community. Not from anything that we did" said Bieser.