I had the pleasure of having lunch with Kiah and Mrs. Virginia Ali. Mrs. Virginia really took a liking to Kiah, as she danced to the tunes beaming from the Jukebox.
Ben's Chili Bowl is one of my favorite places in DC, not just because it has good food therapy for the soul, but because of its history. It has been an integral part of the community since its founding in 1958, frequented by both police and protesters during the 1968 Washington, D.C. riots.
"Ben's Chili Bowl was founded on August 22, 1958 by Ben Ali, a Trinidadian-born immigrant who studied dentistry at nearby Howard University, and his fiancee, Virginian-born,Virginia Rollins. The two were married seven weeks after opening the restaurant."
Can you believe Washington was still officially segregated during this time but this time? U Street, was known as "Black Broadway". Many jazz greats of the day, such as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Nat King Cole, would stop by the restaurant when they performed at U Street clubs.
Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , black activist Stokely Carmichael, leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, asked Ben to keep his restaurant open and the Alis obtained permission to stay open past curfew. The restaurant fed both the police officers and firemen working to impose order on the neighborhood, as well as the black activists. The violence and arson reached such an extent that Ben wrote "Soul Brother" in soap on the front window in the hopes that it would stop the angry mobs. (Clever)
This was also during a time when drug dealers and users were infecting the community. The restaurant stopped serving pies and cakes, which attracted addicts, while police conducted surveillance on drug dealers from an upstairs window of the building.
Ben's is my reminder of what it means to endure and remain strong. Not for just yourself, but to be a source of blessings for others. You see, U Street businesses were closing left and right, but Ben's Chili Bowl stayed open to feed construction workers.The Washington Post commented that Ben's Chili Bowl is "probably the only business on this strip that survived both the 1968 riots and the construction phase of the Metro Green Line". Survival is what Ben's represents to me.
Oh...and the food!
Don't worry - there is something for us Vegans, too! Although the "signature dish" on Ben's menu features the "original chili half-smoke" there is a healthy choice menu and guess what.... In addition to serving food for customers who eat inside or order for take-out, the restaurant ships food nationwide, too! Today, many of the restaurant's sausages are produced in Baltimore, Maryland by the Manger Packing Corporation.
Another reason why Ben's story resinates with me is because he started off with his mind set on Dentistry school but life handed him lemons and as a result he made Lemonade to washed down that Chili. Ben and Virginia are a Power Couple and in my opinion the most powerful couple in DC! Thank you for gracing DC with your presence and leaving behind a legacy and may your sons Nizam and Kamal, continue to make strides.
While Black Wall Street and Black Broadway are gone, Ben's and other small, black-owned businesses are managing to survive. We must support them to savor a little of ourselves.
So support black businesses, not because we want to be divided but because we want to be equal, which includes economic equality and buying power.
"The World is our Home, School & Playground" -Zekiah Desirae
Checkout more on our Homeschool Travel Club, and the launch of ✈️LayAirWay ✈️