Last week, the James Beard Foundation announced its nominations for media finalists, and two names from Charleston, South Carolina, popped up — KJ Kearney and Jamaal Lemon. Kearney is nominated for his social media accounts (TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram) promoting Black-owned restaurants at @blkfoodfridays. Lemon is nominated for his reporting on the history of beer and Black exclusion in Charleston in a three part series for Good Beer Hunting titled “Tek Cyear uh de Root, Part One — The Schützenfest, Black Endurance, and Beer Culture in Old South Charleston”; “Tek Cyear uh de Root, Part Two — The Deliberate Reconstruction of the Charleston Schützenfest”; and “Tek Cyear uh de Root, Part Three — The Lost Potential of Charleston Beer.”
This is the first James Beard Foundation Award (JBFA) nomination for both creators.
Lemon says a slew of tweets tagging him alerted him that he earned the nomination on Wednesday, April 27. “All of this is relatively new to me,” says Lemon. He and his team talked about submitting his piece, but he says he almost forgot that Good Beer Hunting sent in the work until those tweets came through.
The “Tek Cyear uh de Root” series explores the connections of pervasive racism and the consumption and manufacturing of beer along the history of Charleston. “I live in Baltimore, Maryland, now. I left Charleston in 2007,” says Lemon, “I have a love-hate relationship with Charleston. I love it. It’s the flip-flop capital of the world, and the food is awesome, but Charleston unfortunately holds on to a lot of traditions that aren’t the friendliest. It’s on many levels, like gender and race — it’s just archaic. I felt the need to get out of Charleston.” He says that when he moved to D.C. at the time he saw other Black creators doing amazing work and it inspired him to do more creative endeavors. A YouTube channel led to a World of Beer internship, which eventually led to Lemon writing for Good Beer Hunting, which led to the publication of the “Tek Cyear uh de Root” series. “For me, this piece is a bit divine, because never in a million years did I think beer and Charleston would come together so beautifully for me to explain,” says Lemon.
The other JBFA nominee Kearney is actually mentioned in the series. “He gave me the spark for the angle that I needed to write the piece,” says Lemon.
Kearney runs the popular social media accounts related to Black Food Fridays, which celebrate and highlight Black-owned restaurants, bars, food trucks, and vendors. Kearney started the accounts in 2020, and it has since gained massive followings, “It was a surprise, but I wasn’t shocked,” says Kearney of his nomination, “I feel like the mission of Black Food Fridays is on brand with what the James Beard Foundation is trying to do — opening up what food history gets taught, seen, and being considered worthy.” Kearney found out about his nomination via a bombardment of texts, “I totally forgot I even applied,” he says.
“I’m ecstatic to possibly get this award, but I’m more ecstatic because I’m learning that this nomination is almost a win in itself, because it opens doors, and it provides opportunities,” says Kearney, “I’m looking forward to walking through those doors and seeing those opportunities so I can turn around and try to give other people, who may never be nominated for a James Beard, those same opportunities.”
The JBFA ceremony will take place in Chicago on June 13.