Smile Politely

Plan to attend the DREAAM Soul Food Family Festival

Tracy Dace shakes hands with an individual in a salmon colored collared button-up shirt at an outdoor event.
Photo courtesy of DREAAM

“When people leave the festival, we want them to have experienced culture, history, and joyful hope,” says DREAAM founder and CEO Tracy Dace.

If anyone is looking for more culture, history, and joyful hope, check out next Saturday’s DREAAM Soul Food Family Festival. The organization’s very first festival is a free event with children’s games, gospel music performances, cultural activities, and delicious soul food and desserts (for purchase) by Champaign-Urbana Black-owned businesses. From 1 to 4 p.m. at Vineyard Church in Urbana, the organizers hope to bring the community together in family-friendly celebration of food, music, and culture. This tracks with DREAAM’s vision of “empowerment through health and wellness for all…strengthening families.”

DREAAM’s Soul Food Family Festival will have inexpensive food options from C-U’s Neil St. Blues, Sugga Shaii’s Sweets, RiPoppedIt, and more. Plus there will be music performances by Laquisha Burries-Finn, Audrey Mock, Pilgrim Baptist Church Praise Dancers, and Steve Davis and Spirit.

Check out the Children’s Village, an area with fun activities for kids of all ages. In collaboration with Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering (WYSE) in the Grainger College of Engineering, Illinois Public Media, and WILL-TV Radio, the Children’s Village will have STEM activities, games, 200 free books, basketball, football, cornhole, bounce houses, bubble wands, hula hoops, and cultural activities encompassing everything from food to music. Additionally, the festival will honor the life and legacy of the late Mr. Willie T. Summerville.

I had the pleasure of learning more about the DREAAM Soul Food Family Festival, thanks to DREAAM CEO Tracy Dace and Director of DREAAM Impact Cornicha Henderson.

Smile Politely: About the upcoming event, Mr. Dace, you said, “We wanted to create a soulful event that brings the community together to share in food, music, culture, and family. We’re creating a space where all can celebrate what this community has to offer, while also sharing our vision of empowerment through health and wellness for all and strengthening families.” Can you talk more about that?

Tracy Dace: First, we envision people and families from across East Central Illinois will attend the Soul Food Family Festival. We have thoughtfully planned a cultural experience for everyone to enjoy. We will have great food, entertainers and emcees, children’s activities, and lots of positive energy. In addition, we are working with the children of the late Mr. Willie T. Summerville and the University of Illinois to exhibit the incredible legacy of Mr. Summerville at the festival. When people leave the festival, we want them to have experienced culture, history, and joyful hope.

SP: Let’s talk more about the food!

Dace: At the DREAAM Soul Food Family Festival, we will have several delicious food vendors to nourish your body and soul. From soul food to BBQ to salads, everyone will find something to enjoy at an affordable price. Plus, we will have dessert vendors. Please come out that day ready to eat! I plan to try everything. 

Cornicha Henderson: We were intentional in that we didn’t want to have a free event and then the venders charge extremely expensive amounts, and then people couldn’t afford the food. So that was our intention: we wanted it to be a fun, affordable family event. The food will be affordably priced. Everything will be $10 or less. We’ve got barbecue, we’ve got salad options, we’ve got dessert options — a lot of good things to choose from.

SP: Since it’s the first festival for DREAAM, I’m sure it takes a lot of planning. Can you talk about that?

Dace:  There are many small and large details to plan for any community event. However, we are fortunate to have committed, excellent sponsors who have stepped up to assist with planning. It was important for us to take a village approach in creating the Soul Food Family Festival. As we continue to live through the pandemic, we wanted to create a festival to elevate community empowerment and family time. We are in this together.

Henderson: This is our first festival and so we wanted to celebrate culture and history but also make it something fun and engaging for the community. We’ll have activities and games that are free for the community to enjoy. Something really huge is our Children’s Village. We’re providing so many interactive games and activities, cultural games, STEM games, and a lot of games and activities for children and adults, families together! It’s not an event where it’s just for the kids to come and play, and the parents just to stand there and watch. It’s something for the entire family to get involved and do together.

We are being very intentional even in the games that we’re we’re going to have. We are going to have games for big kids. We’re doing basketball, we’re doing football, and we’ll have the big bounce houses. I think coming out of the pandemic — even though COVID numbers are going back up — it’s time to get back out and and have fun and just reconnect as a community. This is a great time just to get together, get out there, and have fun. So that’s why we’re doing this. We want to just reconnect.

SP: To clarify, do people need to register?

Henderson: Registration is not required, but we strongly encourage people to just so we have a good estimate of how many people we should prepare for.

Tracy and a volunteer for DREAAM work to carry pallets of canned food.
Photo courtesy of DREAAM

SP: What all does DREAAM have going on when you’re not throwing an epic fall festival?

Henderson: DREAAM has a lot going on all the time. I always joke that we have a program going on eight days a week. And that’s a joke — but it’s not a joke because DREAAM truly does have programs going on all the time. It’s more than just after-school and summer programming. We have program going on Saturdays. We have programs going on in the evening. There’s programming for people between the ages of three and 24. There are so many programs that we offer to the community. One of our bigger programs is our after school programs. We’ll start back up in October, so that will come after the Soul Food Family Festival. People will be able to register for after school programming. That’s a great way to get those registrations because we will be accepting registration at the festival.

SP: What are ways that C-U can support DREAAM and the good work the organization does besides attending this event? 

Dace: We need committed volunteers and donors to support the mission and vision of DREAAM. We are reaching, teaching, and empowering DREAAMers six days a week (Monday through Saturday) through a wide variety of programs and transformative experiences. Caring adults and donations will help us to continue to grow and serve children and young adults. 

Henderson: People can contact us, follow us on our social media. They can visit our website. Drop by our office on Fox Drive in Champaign or call the office 217-373-4818. We love to get in contact with people. We’re always accepting volunteers if anybody would like to volunteer for any of our programs. We absolutely love volunteers. Absolutely love volunteers! If I didn’t say it — we love volunteers, absolutely love volunteers.

It’s important to say that DREAAM just celebrated its 7th anniversary. When we started seven years ago, we had about 10 DREAAMers, and so, in that small amount of time, we’ve grown from a kindergarten readiness program to where we are at now. And that really speaks, I think, to the heart of Tracy: seeing the need for the community and really following in that direction.

We do Saturday programming now, and we have our Hope for the Future program, our violence prevention program. A program that we started about a year and a half ago, recognizes the importance of self-care and and making that a priority. We realized that parents, you know, they do the best they can and make it a point to make sure that your children are okay — and I mean myself as a parent. We don’t make ourselves a priority, and so DREAAM tries to fill that gap by making parents feel like a priority and have time for themselves with self-care. We’ve done spa stuff like chair massages. We had a session where authors came in and read excerpts from their books — and everybody got books signed by the author.

What I love is that the program is designed to help children, but you can’t help kids without helping their families or the people that take care of the children. It’s a lot of grandparents out there, and those grandparents need that rejuvenation. They need that care, and they need to be loved on for a few hours a day. So you know, DREAAM really does take care of the entire family. I love the fact that we really are meeting the of our community in so many ways on a daily basis. It’s more than just after school programming. Our programming is truly meeting the needs of families, of our community. It’s what we should be doing.

Tracy Dace stands with four other Black individuals for a DREAAM event.
Photo courtesy of DREAAM

SP: Okay, in conclusion, what are some of your favorite foods to eat in Champaign-Urbana?

Dace: Yes! I enjoy the Southern-style food and hospitality at Neil St. Blues, and the turkey tips at Wood N’ Hog

Henderson: My favorite restaurant is Neil St. Blues — you can’t go wrong there. And Watson’s Shack and Rail has the best fried okra!

Learn more about the event on September 30th here or check out the Soul Food Family Festival Facebook event page.

DREAAM Soul Food Family Festival
Vineyard Church
1500 N Lincoln Ave
Sa September 30th 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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