As a student of color at the University of Illinois, it’s not hard to notice the lack of places to have fun that are inclusive of people of color. Owner of K Squared Events and University of Illinois alum Denzel McCauley, and Owner of Unofficialboyz Warren Montgomery noticed that same lack of space and set out to create a solution. That’s where BLOC Thursdays come in. The meaning of the word BLOC is; a combination of countries, parties, or groups sharing a common purpose. BLOC Thursdays is a weekly event that began at Axe Bar in Champaign.
During the thick of the pandemic, Brothers Bar & Grill in Campustown closed permanently. McCauley and Montgomery were inspired by the closure of the bar and the space that it left. “Brothers was its own thing…you have to experience it yourself. It was a melting pot of every culture.” Montgomery said. Montgomery also noted the difference between the music at Brothers in comparison to other campus bars, “It wasn’t just radio hits, there were a lot of minority students there and there was a lot of music that we all listen to there that you wouldn’t hear at like a Red Lion or KAMS.”
Without a bar like Brothers, McCauley and Montgomery said that the lack of places for POC felt more pronounced, “The ability for students to really get a dynamic experience is very very small, especially since KAMS and Lion are owned by the same individual” McCauley said. They also noted that people of color don’t have many spaces where they can throw events, “I think that we are giving everyone an opportunity to see something different. That is necessary. You know? I’m saying like, besides one-off parties that are thrown by an official student group or any other group, minority students don’t really have anywhere to go besides someone’s house.”
Once the pair found a location, they had to figure out how to advertise to a diverse audience in a way that avoided exclusion. The two already had an exceptional track record of throwing events that provided space for people of color, that were respectfully run and, most importantly, fun. With this momentum, they used drink deals, a few ads on social media and reached out to people who could help with promoting to a wide variety of people in the city.
“We made sure to bring in different people…we brought in individuals on the football team to help, sponsor, and host, and we also brought individuals on the cheerleading team to bring in a dynamic crowd. We have the themes too,” said McCauley.
The event took off quickly, spreading mainly through word of mouth. BLOC was able to set itself apart from bars in Urbana-Champaign and especially the bars in Campustown. When speaking with McCauley and Montgomery, they mentioned the addition of bottle girls to the event as a chance for people in C-U to interact with a club environment in a way that is usually only available in larger cities. The bottle girls take on the responsibility of serving sections, tables, and hyping up the crowd. The two event planners also emphasized the importance of finding a DJ who could play to a general, but diverse crowd. They hired DJ Dev.n who excels at creating rap, pop, alt, and dance mixes.
“It’s a good vibe and the crowd isn’t just students. I enjoy it because It’s a change of pace from the campus bars. There’s more people from town, the crowd is predominantly people of color, and I get to play different genres of music.” DJ Dev.n said.
The crowd for the events tended to be high energy, dance-heavy, and perfect for occasional live performances by local rappers and singers. BLOC Thursdays stands out as a bar experience that’s special and goes above and beyond to be a space that is affordable, fun and inclusive.
McCauley and Montgomery both expressed that ultimately they desire to provide a safe space where everyone can have fun and use them as a resource. “At the end of the day we’re all people that want to have fun, we all want to have a space, and if I’m able to provide a space where people that don’t have one feel comfortable and feel safe, I’m going to do that.” said McCauley.
The event is currently on a brief hiatus while they look for a permanent home for BLOC Thursdays.