Richmond couple provides support at Marcus David Peters Circle.
RICHMOND- After spending months in prison, 37-year-old Rashawn Dawkins could’ve gone back to selling drugs. Instead, he wanted to help build a community based around unity and helping each other. The day after his release, he wasted no time and put that plan in action.
Dawkins and his wife, Bubbles, have spent 144 days and counting on the grassy knoll near the memorial of Gen. Robert E. Lee, now known as Marcus-David Peters Circle, giving free hot meals to those in need. Whether rain or shine, they’re out in the thick of it, cooking everything from hamburgers to shish kebabs. They call their operation “All Love in the Kitchen” or just “the Kitchen” for short. So far, he and his wife have spent over $5,000 out of pocket to buy supplies. Now, they’re accepting donations, not only to keep “the Kitchen” running, but to turn it into an official non-profit.
“At the end of the day, we feed protesters, homeless people, whoever,” said Dawkins. “It’s about showing people that we can take a little bit and make something big out of it. Some people work all week but don’t have enough money for food. Now, they can get something to eat from our kitchen.”
But one of the biggest reasons why they started were the #BlackLivesMatter protests over the summer.
While 2020 has been hailed as a landmark year of criminal justice reform in Virginia, the state still has a long way to go. As someone who has seen the system’s flaws up close and personal, Dawkins knows how necessary these changes are. “All in the Kitchen” was a great opprotunity to help the protesters by supplying water and food to those who needed it.
Need for Prison Reform
Born and raised in Richmond, Dawkins is from Blackwell, a neighborhood on the southside of the city. Since third grade, Dawkins has been in trouble with the law. He first started selling drugs in elementary school, leading all the way until his adulthood.
“I was raised in the prison system,” said Dawkins. “I’ve spent over half of my life incarcerated.” At the beginning of 2020, Dawkins was arrested for a parole violation. The courts sentenced him to four months in prison. But on March 13, things took a turn for the worst. Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia, putting the prison on lockdown.
“Basically, the world stopped,” said Dawkins. Because of the pandemic, the incarcerated people had to squeeze eating, showering, calling loved ones and other tasks all into a window of 45 minutes. The rest of the day, they spent alone.
Over the summer, protests broke out nationwide in response to the death of George Floyd. Richmond saw protests as well. Starting in May, there were an estimated 150 straight days of protesting in the city, with many notable demonstrations taking place in the Circle. The day after Dawkins was released, he and Bubble went there to hand out waters to the protesters. But when the protests stopped, they didn’t.
“As time went on, the demand just kept getting bigger,” said Dawkins. “We just kept supplying the need.”
While this may be their first time doing something like this to this scale, Dawkins and Bubbles have been feeding their community for ages. In their neighborhood, cookouts are common. To them, food is more than fuel for survival. It’s a way to show each other love.
Incident with Richmond PD
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the protesters who’ve had run-ins with police. On numerous occasions, the “All Love in the Kitchen” team has had Richmond Police Department come at them. However, on of the most memorable happened on July 29, a little over a month after they started handing out food.
Early in the day, about 10 to 12 officers, some armed with assault weapons, ordered a nearby pocket of protesters to pack their stuff up and leave. Officers said the protesters were in violation of the city’s ordinance against overnight camping. However, while evacuating the protesters, the police told the All in the Kitchen to leave as well, despite the fact that they weren’t camping. Sure, they had tents. But, they never stayed on the premises overnight and usually left at around 6 o’clock.
Regardless, Richmond PD began to confiscate their stuff, including tents, water bottles and chairs. The situation quickly escalated. While Bubbles was reaching over to grab a chair, Deputy Chief Sydney G. Collier allegedly pushed her, according to Dawkins. This eventually led to Bubbles suffering an asthma attack. The Dogwood reached out to the Richmond Police Department for comment and we’re still waiting for a response.
“We were just providing something for the community,” said Dawkins. “The situation got hectic. They just came in and started taking stuff. People even got arrested out there.”
Bubbles was charged with encampment and eventually was found not guilty. However, the Richmond PD has not yet reached out to Dawkins or his family about the altercation.
The Future of All Love in the Kitchen
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, Dawkins has big plans for the holidays. They’re trying to partner with Harold’s Kitchen to create and distribute care packages with dry food and toiletries. And their future plans don’t stop there. While staying in the Circle is a good start, they plan on expanding to other areas of the city that need help, like the projects and food deserts.
“We’re not scared to go to the projects,” said Dawkins. “This is an opprotunity for us to get them what they need.”
By next year, they’re hoping to get theur own building to operate out of. Until then, they’re still raising money to complete the paperwork to become an official non-profit. ‘The Kitchen’ will also be feeding people on Thanksgiving Day. They will set up and feed the first 200 people at the field next to 806 E. 22nd St. in Richmond, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Want to learn more about them? Visit their Instagram here.
Arianna Coghill is a content producer with the Dogwood. You can reach her at email@example.com.