Ujamaa That! Annual Kwanzaa Crawl Brings $250,000 to Black Businesses in Gentrifying Harlem and Brooklyn

Illustration for article titled Ujamaa That! Annual Kwanzaa Crawl Brings $250,000 to Black Businesses in Gentrifying Harlem and Brooklyn
Photo: Alessandro “Fresco” Cerdas

Even us anti-capitalists recognize that economic freedom is power in the good ole US of A. And as it relates to Kwanzaa, on this fourth day, we celebrate Ujamaa (ooh-jaa-mah), meaning cooperative economics and also, “shared wealth and work”, “economic self-reliance” and “obligation of generosity.”


Last year, we feted Richelieu Dennis, and in 2017, it was Chance the Rapper.

This year we are hype!, because not only do sisters Kerry Coddett and Krystal Stark represent Ujamaa, but they actually wrap this schmoney game in black business promotion, including their own, through their annual Kwanzaa Crawl.

Krystal Stark and Kerry Coddett, founders of Kwanzaa Crawl.
Krystal Stark and Kerry Coddett, founders of Kwanzaa Crawl.
Photo: Alessandro “Fresco” Cerdas

Kwanzaa Crawl snakes through New York’s Brooklyn and Harlem, N.Y., neighborhoods, both forever changed by the gentrification that has pushed many black people – and businesses – out.

Kwanzaa Crawl is the largest annual bar crawl of its kind, filling the coffers of black-owned restaurants and lounges in Brooklyn and Harlem to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars in one day. It’s a diasporically diverse, festive holiday outing—for adults only —that hits many of the tenets of Kwanzaa. I mean bodyrolling for tha BlackGod while drinking Hennessy AND keeping the flavor in your beloved hood?!!!! It don’t get no better!

According to Krystal and Kerry:

Half of the business we collaborate with are women-led. Last year, we had over 4,100 Crawlers generate over $250,000 in one day for participating businesses...This year we expect about 5,000 participants to take the streets to build community and economic empowerment in real time.

Picture this: crawlers are divided into 65 teams each led by a turnt tour guide with a music-playing bullhorn, five thousand people round-robin from bar to bar, in two different boroughs, at the same exact time. Teams split up, criss-cross, and join up to make bigger ones in an 8-hour day full of fun.


And as evidenced in last year’s event, they had a black-ass-ball!

Two days before Kwanzaa Crawl 2019, Krystal and Kerry shared that although they didn’t celebrate Kwanzaa growing up, that they only celebrate Kwanzaa now, and love spreading its tenets. I was especially interested in how gentrification had affected Kwanzaa Crawl. Kerry confirms that not only are the black businesses patronized on the day of, they also get repeat business once affiliated with the event.


“I have been encouraged by the new black-owned businesses,” says Krystal, noting that in the four years since Kwanzaa crawl first kicked off, some spots have closed down. But others have opened, and some have stayed open because of residual business.

And although this is a bar-centric event, the sisters are clear that it’s not all about the party.


“We think it’s important to keep the ‘Kwanzaa’ in the Kwanzaa Crawl, because it’s not just a bar crawl, it’s not JUST about partying,” says Krystal. “So we start with setting intentions, letting [the crawlers] know about Kwanzaa, letting them know how this crawl relates to Kwanzaa, and how they can carry out the principles throughout the rest of the year and not just a one-day event.”

Tickets for the next Kwanzaa Crawl go on sale on Black Friday, 2020.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.


First hand account: this event was lit, shout out to them for pulling it off. Shout out to all the black women they tapped to be squad leaders.  Shout out to the venues & the generous pours of rum. Shout out to the black ass hangover I had the next morning.  10/10 would do again.