KJ Kearney, now 37, was aiming for a career in politics when he ran for a spot in South Carolina’s House of Representatives in 2016. After he lost the election, he began to think of ways to merge his love of politics, and food with his Gullah-Geechee heritage. Two years later, he figured it out by creating a new food holiday: Red Rice Day. His proclamation was ratified by the South Carolina legislature in 2018, and Red Rice Day is now officially celebrated on September 29. It celebrates Gullah-Geechee tradition and acknowledges the history of rice farming by enslaved Africans.
“In South Carolina, we have a holiday called Confederate Memorial Day,” Kearney, now an educator at North Charleston Creative Arts Elementary School, told Today. “My mind frame is how do we make change without being overt about it.”
Right now Kearney’s social media following is strong, with over 20,000 Instagram followers at @blackfoodfridays and over 67,00o followers on TikTok, which he just joined in November. On both feeds, he shares facts like the bond between African Americans and Hennessy cognac (watch the video above all the way through: there’s a gem at the end), and how a former enslaved man nicknamed Uncle Nearest trained Jack Daniel on the ways to distill whiskey. These videos drop regularly on Fridays.
He also uses his platform to highlight and recognize Black-owned businesses at the same time. “I wanted to do my part to alert people that there are Black-owned businesses around you that you could be supporting,” he said. “You’re talking about being an ally. Let’s give you some actionable steps, and food is one of those things that is not divisive for most people. If I get you to [support a Black-owned business] once a month, that’s money they’re going to receive that they would have never gotten before me.”
Kearney’s long-term goal is to land a food television show that covers the same territory (I would definitely binge this show).
“What that will do, subconsciously, is put Black food at the same level as everybody else’s,” Kearney told Today. “All these shows travel the world and they elevate other people’s cuisines. Yet, in our own country, there’s never been a show dedicated to doing the same for our stuff.”