BRIDGEPORT — The owner of a Bridgeport soul food restaurant is asking for donations to tighten security and repair her building’s exterior after someone tagged it with racist graffiti this week.
Sydney Blakely arrived Wednesday morning at her restaurant, Cook It Mama Cafe, 545 W. 31st St., to find “BLDM,” short for “Black lives don’t matter,” spray painted across the doors, walls and windows. The vandalism damaged a mural of a Black woman on one side of the building as well as colorful decor at the entry.
“My spirt was crushed at that moment. My heart sank. I thought ‘Why me?'” Blakely said. “But I had to push forward and keep it positive. It takes more energy to be mean than to be nice. I’m trying to not get any wrinkles before 45.”
Blakley launched a GoFundMe to raise $10,000 for security cameras, an alarm system and to repair the exterior. Donors have contributed more than $5,000.
An investigation into the vandalism is ongoing, police said. No one is in custody.
Blakely’s passion for cooking started at Kenwood Academy, when she’d walk around the cafeteria with Dollar Store pans of homemade jerk chicken salad for sale.
Blakely poured her savings into Cook It Mama Cafe and opened in September along the busy commercial strip.
“It was important to me,” Blakely said. “I’m a Black woman, and this is my first business. I know the history of Bridgeport. Did I expect everyone to buy a jerk chicken salad? No.
“But I definitely didn’t think they’d put racial slurs all over it.”
Cook It Mama Cafe will likely reopen next week once security measures are installed, Blakely said. She’s the sole person there working, she said.
“I don’t feel safe being there by myself until then,” Blakely said. “What I can do for now is speak out about this. I didn’t ask to be an example, but now I want to show that Black businesses will not take this lightly.”
The neighborhood has long seen anti-Black violence and other racist incidents. A Black-owned beauty salon in Bridgeport was vandalized in March, its windows shattered.
But Bridgeport has been diversifying, which is what attracted Blakely to the area, she said. The overall support from the community since the ribbon-cutting has been “uplifting and all love,” Blakely said.
Teachers at Robert Healy Elementary School across the way frequent the business for lunch, Blakely said. A neighboring Asian-owned dance studio gets catering. A Latino neighbor stops by to pick up coffee every morning for him and his work crew. He gifted Blakely the coffee pot, Blakely said.
Positive Google reviews, messages and “neighborly energy” have kept Blakely pushing forward since the vandalism, she said. It took her years to open the doors of Cook It Mama, and she doesn’t plan to close anytime soon, she said.
“There’s been good days and slow days, and I know every business takes time to grow,” Blakely said. “Not everyone in Bridgeport will come in. It is what it is. But to all I’d just say, come meet me. Come find out the type of person I am.”
Blakely said she hopes to replace the mural with one featuring a variety of faces, representing the diversity and unity of the neighborhood, she said.
“We should support all our local businesses. For a lot of us, it’s all we have. Even if you come in just for a bottle of water, that might be their first dollar of the day. This is my everything,” Blakely said. “If you can’t donate to the fundraiser, that’s OK, and maybe you can share it. It’s brightening my spirits.”
Old high school classmates still call Blakely about her jerk chicken salad, she said.
“It’s the same salad, the same me, but with better packaging,” she said. “And it’s here now for a reason.”
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