Last summer, in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests and the COVID–19 pandemic, bakeries across the country participated in Bakers Against Racism bake sales: virtual fundraisers that donate to organizations fighting for racial justice for Black people in the United States.
The idea for Bakers Against Racism began in Washington, D.C. from three resident D.C. pastry chefs—Paola Velez, Willa Pelini, and Rob Rubba. Pelini was struck by the tragic murder of George Floyd and decided that she wanted to use her skills to support the Black Lives Matter movement, so she asked Velez for her help in hosting a pop–up bake sale. Velez had experience hosting a different pop–up bake sale, Doña Dona D.C.—whose proceeds went to Ayuda, an organization that provides legal, social, and language services to low–income immigrants in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. She offered a fantastic model to emulate. Together, the three founded the Bakers Against Racism organization.
Although the organization began small, it quickly gained attention across the country, and attracted approximately 1,000 bakers from various cities who hosted their own bake sales. Bakers Against Racism has raised over two million dollars unofficially, in what they call “the world’s biggest bake sale.” Here in Philadelphia, over 30 bakeries and cafés have participated in their virtual bake sales.
Street spoke to one baker and two bakeries who participated last summer: Camille Cogswell, High Street Philly, and Fitz and Starts.
Camille Cogswell, the main organizer of Bakers Against Racism for the Philly bakers, said she was inspired by the collective action of the organization as a whole.
"I first heard about [Bakers Against Racism] from another friend in the restaurant industry and immediately reached out to one of the organizers, Paola Velez, who was an acquaintance and fellow pastry chef. I was, like so many others, deeply disturbed by the ongoing deaths of Black people ... I wanted to speak out and try to contribute to building more equitable communities and systems. I liked that [Bakers Against Racism] was encouraging us, as bakers and chefs, to use the skills we know as a tool to speak up and make change," says Cogswell.
Velez reached out to Cogswell and asked her to organize for Philadelphia. She sold brownies, lemon curd tea cakes, banana pudding, and ham & cheese brioche buns. Cogswell raised $2,000, which she split between two different Philly organizations that provided mental health and wellness services to the local Black community. After the first sale, she did three more in 2020, donating those proceeds to organizations and projects fighting for racial justice.
"I know that it takes so much more than a bake sale to have a true impact on policy and ingrained systems and biases, but it all has to start from somewhere, and the more people who believe in a movement, the more power and persuasion it has. So, I think that every single contribution, every time someone speaks out against racism or thinks selflessly to benefit those in the community who haven't had equal opportunities, it all makes a difference," she says.
High Street Philly, located on South 9th Street, and @highstphilly on Instagram, sold strawberry crullers, spelt chocolate chip cookies, raspberry cream cheese muffins, and their signature cinnamon buns in their virtual bake sale.
“We have always believed in using the tools we know how to use (food!) to champion causes that are important to us, and this is no exception. When we learned about Bakers Against Racism, it was a perfect fit to leverage the skills of our talented bakers to support something our entire team believes in: standing up against the unjust treatment of Black people in our country,” says Ellen Yin, the founder and co-owner of High Street Hospitality Group.
The restaurant, whose proceeds went to ACLU Pennsylvania, said the team wanted to support local organizations, and emphasized the importance of Bakers Against Racism's influence in nearby communities.
“Bakers Against Racism does an incredible job of raising awareness in the local communities it touches and on a greater scale, across the nation. We think the proceeds and physical donations are one piece of making an impact, but the awareness and fostering meaningful dialogues in our communities on these issues is also paramount,” says Yin.
In addition to their participation in Bakers Against Racism, High Street Philly is committed to fighting racism in their everyday operations by creating a diverse and inclusive environment for their team, purveyors, suppliers, vendors, and guests. “The entire ecosystem needs to be actively anti–racist in order for progress to be made,” says Yin. “We make every effort to carry that through in our operations, business decisions, and the causes we choose to support.”
Fitz and Starts, located on South 4th Street and @fitzandstartsphilly on Instagram, also participated. Fitz and Start’s inspiration to participate in the Bakers Against Racism sale began with the owner Pat O’ Malley’s memories of old school fundraiser bake sales. “I thought [Bakers Against Racism] was an amazing initiative that tapped into the nostalgia of fundraiser bake sales I experienced growing up, and provided the opportunity to highlight some Black–run projects here in Philadelphia,” O'Malley says.
Fitz and Starts sold lemon buttermilk chess pies, poppyseed cakes, and hazelnut linzer cookies. They donated their proceeds to Women Who Never Give Up, a nonprofit based in New Jersey that is dedicated to helping families get justice in the criminal justice system. Like Yin, Malley emphasized the importance of supporting local organizations and their work in fighting for freedom.
“We hope that more attention can be brought to these local organizations as well as the many others that are working to end racism through the avenues of food, history, and culture, and that more people are inspired to support the Black Lives Matter movement,” says O' Malley.