Beyond History: Knoxville's Black Experience - Present
We're highlighting stories that played an integral role in the foundation and development of African Americans in East Tennessee.
Black History Month is a time for people to honor and focus attention on African Americans who made contributions and sacrifices that helped shape the nation.
East Tennessee has many stories of how African Americans made improvements within its region.
From a local rap group changing people's outlook on hip hop to women embracing their natural hair, there is so much history that is explored.
This is the journey through East Tennessee's Black history.
The Good Guy Collective:
A local rap group, The Good Guy Collective, hopes to make Knoxville a center for hip-hop.
"In terms of our history and what makes hip hop unique in Knoxville is the community element. We're really a grassroots type of town," Jarius Bush said.
Formed in 2013, a group of local artists realized the need for a rap culture in the city. They created a hip-hop scene by starting small and building on their successes.
"There's a spot called the Birdhouse Community Center. That really became the Mecca of the hip-hop scene," Bush said. "It just started with an open mic over there. From there, the community started to build and grow and develop from there."
As the group evolved over the years, so did their outlook on music.
"The nature of hip hop has had a negative stigma to it. As we got older, we realized that hip hop needs a positive voice, a positive force in the scene."
With their frequent performances and wide spectrum of artists, the Good Guy Collective hopes to turn the stereotypes of hip-hop on its head.
Knoxville native Bianca Blair, known to wrestling fans as Bianca Belair, blazed a trail and accomplished feats she never imagined.
Growing up, Belair was destined to be a world-class athlete. She competed in gymnastics, track and field and even flag football.
In high school, she was a triple threat by continuing her track and field career, but also adding basketball and cheerleading into the mix.
Belair attended the University of South Carolina and Texas A&M before returning to Knoxville and becoming an All-SEC and All-American in track at the University of Tennessee.
During one of her Crossfit competitions, she was approached by WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry who got her a tryout with the sports entertainment company. After two attempts, she was signed to World Wrestling Entertainment in 2016.
Bianca started out competing in the Mae Young Classic tournament and NXT before being called up to the main roster.
From there, she was able to win both of the top women's titles in the organization: The Smackdown and Raw championships.
Belair also became the first Black woman to win the Women's Royal Rumble. She, along with Sasha Banks, was the first Black female headliner of Wrestlemania.
Oglewood Avenue owner and former UT student Jade Adams has a passion for plants and their development.
While studying microbiology, she purchased a house plant while taking a botany class. As her greenery grew, so did her liking for flora as one plant soon turned into 300.
"It was super cool starting out with one and starting to collect. The hunt of finding the plants, finding the rare plants, taking care of harder-to-find plants, it all kind of became a thrill," Adams said.
Since she opened her doors, Adams has been embraced by the city. In turn, she takes time out to help promote her fellow Black business owners.
"I do feel inclined to teach and educate and let people acknowledge all of the great things that the black community is doing," she said.
Given her position, Adams has some advice for young black women who hope to be business owners in the future.
"A: Never give up. B: It's ok to be a different person in the room. Sometimes I feel out of place in some places. It's ok to be different. It's ok to be the only one."
Made from eddo roots, plantains, cassava and lots of seasonings, eddo soup is a savory, traditional Liberian dish.
Eddoe is an edible root vegetable that tastes similar to a potato. They can be roasted, fried or boiled!
Hawa Ware, the former owner of Palahvah Hut, said the dish is good for you when you're feeling sick.
One of the most important facets of Black culture is the stylings of hair that are steeped in history.
Chanta Barfield has owned Pure Essence Salon for over a decade. During that time, her shop has become more than a place to get your hair done.
"We take care of a lot of people's needs," Barfield said. "Not just hair... mentally, physically, emotionally and for you to be able to listen to somebody and help them through their situation, that's rewarding in itself."
Barfield has been in the hair business for more than two decades, but when she was starting out, the outlook on Black hair was different.
"Back in the day it was looked down upon to wear twists, or braids or locks, and it just wasn't accepted. You should be able to wear whatever you're comfortable with in any job, in anything."
Specializing in styles firmly planted in their African roots, she hopes her customers can embrace their hair heritage.
"Hair is an extension of yourself. It's your inner beauty, and you should be able to decide whatever it is that's comfortable and becoming of you," Barfield said.