Neon lights welcome you into a dim room. The classic Sean Paul song “Temperature” is playing. People are dancing like there’s no tomorrow. The smell of jerk chicken and jollof rice entices your nose. Colorful Nigerian and Haitian flags wave in the air. No, you’re not at a party in the islands, but in Detroit at Jerk and Jollof.
Co-founder Kristian Black describes the events as a way to travel to Africa and the Caribbean for about $30. At Jerk and Jollof—also known as JxJ or JerkxJollof—Caribbean and African cultures collide, with “Jerk” representing Jamaica’s popular dish of jerk chicken, and “Jollof” coming from the staple rice dish of West Africa. It’s not only a spot to party for young professionals in Detroit, but a place to go to be a part of a community.
Founders Chuks Nwamba, Fitz Tavernier, Brendan Asante, Dan Green, Frank Reed, Emmanuel Gansallo, and Black started JxJ as a University of Michigan graduation party in 2014. JxJ began with some jerk chicken, Jollof, and Reed’s DJ skills.
The playlist spans a variety of genres, including hip-hop, soca, dancehall, reggae, and Afrobeat. The music is what everyone come for. “We mix all the music together,” says Green, so “everyone [can] feel represented.”
The inclusive environment welcomes everyone. When the team creates events, Nwamba says, “We pay attention to what people like, and collaborate and brainstorm.”
Past events include an annual New Year’s Eve party, cook-offs with Black Metro Eats, JxJ master dance classes, Wakanda night, and summer pool parties. Before many of the events, Taste and Network receptions allow selected local vendors and young professionals to buy and sell products and connect with other professionals. The founders say attendees have met friends, significant others, and collaborators at their events. Many leave encouraged to learn more about Caribbean and African culture—and with a feeling of connection to their community.
Creating community does not end when the music stops spinning and the food is gone; it continues through the Jerk and Jollof Scholarship foundation. The purpose of the foundation is to increase African-American representation in higher education, especially for students entering fields related to science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM).
“We wanted to reinvest the money we were raising from the black community to put back in the black community,” explains Black, “understanding change is most impactful from the bottom up. We created the scholarship to increase underrepresented minority representation. We created this separate nonprofit for that sole purpose.”
The 2017 scholarships went to Ashley Gray from Florida International University and Harsha (Nicole) Parchani from the University of Michigan. Gray studies biochemistry and pre-med, aspiring to become a physician/cardiologist. Parchani is majoring in mechanical engineering in hopes of developing a medical device startup.
”It’s about work hard, play hard,” Nwamba says. In the future, the co-founders plan to expand to other cities, create larger scholarships and more collaborations, strengthen the Jerk and Jollof brand, and build community in the city and the greater African diaspora.