BLCK Family draws dozens to monthly food-and-art networkers

Hubert Phanord, Aaron Marcus Payne and Larren Mellerson of the band Elements warm-up before their session at BLCK Family's August event.
Hubert Phanord, Aaron Marcus Payne and Larren Mellerson of the band Elements warm-up before their session at BLCK Family's August event. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Once a month for the past year, a group called the BLCK Family has brought together 50 to 100 people, mostly young, black professionals, for networking, drinks, multi-course, family-style meals prepared by local chefs, and live performances by local artists and musicians.

Some of these gatherings are held at traditional performance spaces, like art galleries. Some, more outlandishly, are held in someone’s front yard. Often, the exact location is not announced until just before the event.

Najja Moon and Rashaud Michel, the group’s co-founders, make a peculiar pair. Ms. Moon approaches things practically. She spoke about the BLCK Family almost like she was making a sales pitch, using buzz phrases like ‘skill sets’ and ‘personal creative vision.’ Rashaud, on the other hand, likened the project to ‘one of those abstract paintings.’ The two, however, share a vision for BLCK Family as a place where creativity can flourish.

Rashaud said of the events: “[They’re] definitely safe zones, safe zones in the sense of expression, relaxation, creativity.”

“We try to provide a variety to our guests. … We’ve never been on South Beach. … We’ve been in Opa-locka, we’ve been in Little Haiti, we’ve been in what people are calling Little River now,” Najja said, neighborhoods that challenge people’s notions of places that are and aren’t safe.

BLCK Family’s September event will be 7 p.m. Sunday. The event in August, which marked the group’s one-year anniversary, was held at a house in the heart of Little Haiti. At 10 p.m. on a Sunday night in a residential neighborhood, Elements, BLCK Family’s de facto house band, rocked a soulful instrumental in the front yard. The neighbors, one of whom came out onto his front porch to listen, didn’t seem to mind the late weekend noise.

Larren Mellerson is the band’s drummer. He and his bandmates are professional musicians, playing gigs all over the country—Miami, Chicago, Atlanta—but he thinks the BLCK Family events are one-of-a-kind.

“It’s something organic, something that’s rare,” Mellerson said. “You go to your favorite restaurant, and you try out something you never had before, and you say ‘Oh, this is good. … I want to come back again,’ but you don’t want to come back and get the same thing all over again … you’re going to want to try something new.”

One barrier to BLCK Family’s envisioned artistic utopia: price. While the prices change based on the event’s offerings, an all-inclusive ticket can cost an attendee as much as $65 — not exorbitant for a night out in Miami, but not an amount that your starving artist type could easily spend, either.

“We try to make it as accessible as possible,” Moon said. “After a year, we really haven’t made any money.”

Lauren Johnson went to her first BLCK Family event in January and has since become a regular attendee, drawn in by the creative bond that the attendees and event organizers share. Ms. Johnson recognizes the impediment the price may cause, but, to her, the events are well worth the cost of a ticket.

“One thing I’ve learned is that people pay for what they value,” she said. “But I do realize that … [the price] could be a challenge at times. … Personally, [I] think that it’s worth [the price], because you’re getting so much: unlimited food, unlimited drinks, entertainment, networking. It’s everything.”

It’s unclear if the BLCK Family’s next year will bring increased financial stability to Najja and Rashaud, who continue to make organizing BLCK Family events a larger part of their lives. It’s also unclear if the events’ ticket prices will drop. What is clear, though, is that the BLCK Family will continue, for the time being, to be a cultural beacon throughout the Miami area.

If you go

▪ Where: Location to be announced just before event

▪ When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11

▪ How much: $5 for general admission (free for first-time attendees), $10 for drinks, $25 for food and drinks.

▪ How to sign up: http://theblckfamily.com/product/blck-jam-91116