Happy Mother’s Day to moms, stepmoms, grandmoms, and mother figures everywhere. This year, once again, my mom and I are celebrating the holiday on different coasts, and I am reliant on iffy cell phone connections and heart filled cards to convey my love and gratitude. I am mollified by the knowledge that my mom will soon visit me in Oakland, and that I was recently able to bask in some reflected mother daughter love when I spent an afternoon with Reign Free and her mother Marvella Munroe.
“…I did understand that food made people happy, and that there was love in that.”
The joy that Reign and Marvella feel in each other’s presence is palpable. From the smile in their eyes to their enveloping laughs, their similarities are as strong as their bond. Reign, the president of award winning caterer The Red Door (one of Kamala Harris’ first stops during her first trip to Oakland after becoming Vice President) is open about the providence of her enviable cooking skills: her equally gifted mom. As Reign tells it, “Growing up, my mom cooked traditional West Indian dishes. I didn’t realize the work that went into even a simple dish like rice and peas- cracking a coconut, grating the flesh to get a small amount of milk to flavor the rice… but I did understand that food made people happy, and that there was love in that.”
Marvella, who has one rule, “You will not bring your food to my house” for her renowned Thanksgiving dinners which she personally cooks for 60-70 people, is not a fan of pot luck meals. Recognizing Reign’s early talent for cooking, she and her husband actively encouraged Reign’s solo efforts. Marvella fondly remembers long ago Sundays, with Reign solemnly taking the family’s breakfast orders, and then climbing up on a step stool in front of the stove, where Marva had turned the burner to low. Hours later, around 1pm, with their hunger blunted with bemused pride, Reign’s parents would tuck into a multicourse meal, entirely crafted by their 5 year old.
Now that Reign heads her own, multimillion-dollar, earth friendly and environmentally conscious organization, she is particularly aware that she is occupying elevated spaces that are not often held by African Americans. Understanding the importance of that role in her community, Reign is intentional about holding the door open for others. Her passion for furthering social impact innovation leads her to share her advisory acumen with fledgling and established entrepreneurs, and to seek out local, minority owned and youth development focused partners.
That day, I left Reign and Marvella as I found them, relishing one another’s company, and with two mason jars of the most delicious chicken soup that I have ever had in my life, gently stirred into existence by Reign as we chatted. Fortified by that nourishing combination of conversation, food and love I am eagerly awaiting my mom’s arrival next week.