The Porch is activism in the face of conformist gentrification, in the face of anti-Blackness, in the face of misogynoir. We give ourselves the opportunity to enact our values, connect with each other, and shed our fears when we step into the warmth of the Porch. It’s a place where community members come to recharge and renew.
Word of mouth got to me about Franny Lou’s Porch like a torch to kindling. This community-oriented business, offering coffee and safe space in Kensington, sounded too good to be true. Free diapers, menstrual pads and art supplies fill the café, encouraging ownership and helping meet daily needs of those who walk in. Sandwiches called the “Anti-Drone” and teas named “Voice of the Children” affirm values we don’t often say aloud with our lunch. (“I’ll have the Anti-Drone and a Voice of the Children, please.”) This is a practice of manifesting the world we believe in by taking a stake in it. I said it aloud, what now?
The Porch would not be possible without the vision of Blew Kind. She uses “relational” to describe her work, believing that our connections to one another, to our place and time, and to our lived experiences are what matter most. This is transformative. Blew is someone I admire and work with; may our conversation be insightful for other entrepreneurs and creative space-makers.
Content warnings: Mention of familial death, description of slave revolt
Ailbhe Pascal: So, I have been thinking a lot about winter energy. It gets dark this time of year, cold is hard on the body–where have you been getting your energy these days?
Blew Kind: My kids. My kids keep me alive. They wake me up in the morning. And I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee.
Ailbhe: I mean, you run a coffeehouse.
Blew: The fact that I’m drinking a cup of coffee right now, and it’s 5 o’clock at night, tells you I get tired really early. My daughter makes messes every five seconds. Lifting, bending: my body is active. I used to dance, West African dance, and I forget that I’m good at it! That’s my core; I’m an artist. Yesterday, I was wanting to write, but I forgot my notebook. I was by myself, it was late, and I was about to go home, but I stopped at a bar because I thought, “I would love to write there.” I had to look through my whole car for something to write on, and then I found this little index card. It was all crinkly, but whatever! I’m going to write my ass off! Then someone gave me register paper and I wrote on that: Ten poems! I had to get it out; I had to write NOW!
Ailbhe: That magic inspiration that has nothing to do with the way the world around us works: It’s something we need to share.
Blew: That’s what it is: Magic. Mmm, I love Magic.
Ailbhe: Yeah! What’s Magic to you?
Blew: I love the mind, and that we can hope. We can hope for things that are yet to come, not of our history. Some people say, “You are where you come from, you are your own experience,” and my hope is that we can hope beyond our experience, and exist beyond that. The mind has a lot of Magic to it, because we can transcend some things.
The system that is around us is high demand, non-emotional, single-minded, and individual-run. Magic is three-dimensional, community-oriented, working together, and creating beauty by helping one another. Magic is when you can be looking all around and be smiling, even though it’s hard.
Ailbhe: A lot of folks, even artists whom I really admire, use “Magic” to mean the “Impossible,” and I think what you’re saying is that you believe in what is possible of our minds, our communities, and our possibilities. It’s cool, too, that you’re thinking about what we can create beyond our experiences when you also invoke ancestors all the time: Zeta and Gibran, Franny Lou … You have ancestors that you have made part of your life. What role do they play for you? Why do you invoke ancestors so often?
Blew: It’s a few things. I had death at a young age. My mom died when I was fourteen, which isn’t too young, but I’m completely terrified of death. It’s the unknown and mystical space. Our actual spirits are still with us. How are we getting strength from spirits of the past?
I’m very connected to the journey about learning about Black people across the globe. Learning about colonialism and systemic issues. I think we are controlled in a systemic way by the mainstream culture to not know our ancestors because knowing the stories of our past empowers us. It empowers us to do, as you were saying, quote-unquote “The Impossible,” because it is not impossible! I want to be an ordinary radical. I want to be a person who thinks outside the way things are run and brings hope. People have done it for centuries, and it’s inspiring.
I was listening to 900 AM [WURD], Black Talk Radio, and they do “Invocations.” They talk about a figure from the past, usually from the Black community, and praise them. It’s an old Griot thing, really. On WURD they were talking about Charles [Deslondes], who led the largest slave revolt in the United States. 500 people were involved, and it lasted two days, starting tomorrow [January 8th], 207 years ago–and we don’t talk about it anymore! He was one guy, but he sparked all these other revolutionaries, and we need to thank that spirit, and thank the struggle. He died for this!
Some people say that we’re on the shoulders of our ancestors. We have to keep on the struggle for freedom, and recognize the struggle that has already passed. That’s hope! Sankofa. It’s an Ashanti word, which means reaching back to move forward.
Ailbhe: Sankofa is so powerful. I just read a book by Sarah Schulman called Gentrification of the Mind, and one of the things I really love about this book, is that in it gentrification is a type of forgetting. If you forget entire histories of a place and of peoples, replacing can happen. Replacing history! One of the things she sees for addressing that rapid replacement is learning history. So it makes a lot of sense to me that you hold historical consciousness and also hold this safe space. You created a womanist safe space is a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood–
Blew: It’s so intense!
Ailbhe: Yes! I think “renewal” has become a developer’s catchphrase. There was just a huge Kensington business competition all about renewal [Kensington Storefront Challenge], right?
Blew: Yep, six people were taking over businesses under the El, and they got funding for it.
Ailbhe: Yet it’s also a healer’s word. We’re regenerating all the cells in our bodies. Everything is renewing and changing, and when we honor that, it feels healthy. What renewal do you positively envision, either for yourself or at the Porch? Because there is the theme of change in your cafe.
Blew: I love change. It’s about changing our minds. Not changing our opinions, but having practices. Like in our Art Corner! We need our creativity to be a voice, to make things better, rather than keeping the status quo–especially when the norm is hurting people.
I want people to practice creativity in their brains and their spirits, and let it bring life. I don’t think we were meant to be these controlled creatures, I think we are meant to be liberators.
Ailbhe: Yes. You created a space for conversation, too. You use the word relational as part of your mission statement, you use it in conversation, and you are a relational human being. You relate to customers who may have different views than you and educate. I’m curious: How did you come into the relational philosophy?
Blew: I love humans. When my mom died, I went into the theater. I had all these emotions and the guardians at the time didn’t put me through any kind of therapy. I used it to feel, to really express emotion that I couldn’t express at home. Acting teaches people to be human and that it is okay for you to be affected. You can only act well if you respond and are present in the moment, and respond to your partner. Even if your partner is yourself, you have to listen and respond in the moment. It taught me to be present, to listen, and to take note of the person I’m talking to. Maybe that’s where it comes from, this longtime journey with loving acting and performing.
I’ve never thought of that. Yo, I like interviews. It really helps me think.
Ailbhe: Who are some people who are holding you up right now?
Blew: I have a really sweet friend, Shanti. She owns the Sable Collective. I really appreciate her in my life. Shanti looked over to me today and said, “We need to figure out this village! Even if it’s just two people, Blew!” I love that. “We need to get this village life, taking care of each other, even if it’s just two people.” I melted when she said that. She sees me. She’s struggling herself, you know, she wants to have solutions for me and for her, and that’s really beautiful.
I’ve been really intentional connecting to other Black women, and Black moms. I have these five friends that I’ve been friends with the past ten years. If I’m having a hard night, I’ll text them and they’ll pray for me. I’ve lived with all of them at some point in my life. I was just with Shanti this morning, sitting on her floor for two hours. Being around single moms is really helpful, especially Black single moms. It helps me feel less crazy. We’re out here.
Ailbhe: I really believe in that village building around you. I’ve seen you made a YouTube video, and even generally on the website and events at the porch, that folks can get Seed Shares to support the porch. Can you describe how they work?
Blew: Seed Shares are cool. If you spend $25 at the Porch, you get $30 in store credit, or if you spend $75 you get $90 in store credit. But you can only spend $5 at a time. It helps stock our shelves and keep our cash flow even.
Businesses like ours, we start from the bootstraps. I have this awesome idea, this awesome product, but it’s a community product and we need the community to be involved. I can’t keep holding it myself. Either people come forth and say they want it to exist, or it closes. The Seed Share is a small way people can be a part of it, and help us grow.
Ailbhe: The growth you’re asking for is meaningful and possible.
Blew: Oh my gosh, one story! I’m sweeping up and it was right before Christmas. And this guy, John, who has been coming to Franny Lou’s since Leotah’s Place, I’ve known him for eight years; he’s in his late seventies and talks in a really small voice; he comes in, smiles at me, and says, “Blew, you know, you’re really special!” He always comes in and gets a $1 coffee and a muffin, with butter on it. “Blew, you’re really special. You and your family. You know, I’m old enough, I could be your grandfather. You know that?” I’m just sweeping outside. “Aw, thanks John.” Then he says, “Can I give you a kiss… on your forehead?” And I looked at him and said, “Yeah!” And he gives me a kiss on the forehead, all these customers around, and says, “I appreciate you.”
I just cried–not balled cried, but welled up. That was so beautiful. He doesn’t even hug me, but he was so kind then. Like a granddad! I’m sure it was special for him too, he has no grandkids or children. That is magic, that whole day. My kids saw it! And he’s an old white guy from the neighborhood! That’s transformation! I’m in the most racist part of the city. That’s just cool! It’s a little act, and it’s deep.
Thanks again for letting me think about all this.
The Porch hosts Re-Talks and other events which readers could be linked to, inviting more collaboration and creation at the Porch.