Food for the Soul
Deborah “D” Dickerson was born in Plaquemine, Louisiana and left at the age of 10 without an afterthought of ever returning. She and her family moved to New Orleans where she attended college, and later joined the military.
Her final assignment was in Egypt, and due to an emergency, she had to make an unscheduled trip to Poland. She was out of money and out of hope, isolated in a foreign country with thoughts of never returning to America.
After weeks of stress and fear and not knowing whether or not she would make it home alive, Deborah eventually found her way home.
“Deborah didn’t come back,” Dickerson said. “I came back a changed person. A more spiritual, more caring person.”
Deborah said she was given a vision from God. She said she was called to reflect on what it is that she does best and what made her happy, which is cooking. Without all intentions of returning to Plaquemine, to her surprise Deborah made her pilgrimage back to her childhood home.
“There is a heart here,” Deborah said. “I see hope.”
It was a case of “if you build it, they will come” for Deborah when she built D’s Soul Food Café in April of 2015. She found a way to use the restaurant as a safe house and resource for the community members of Plaquemine that were in need of help.
“They will come because they love my food,” Dickerson said. “I can use that opportunity to let people know about different resources they need, comfort them if they need comfort or if they have a need within the community. I found that I’m educated enough to use this opportunity to collaborate with community leaders to help citizens lead a better life.”
Deborah’s main focus is being an advocate for local school children. She provides assistance by bridging the communication gap between troubled students in Iberville Parish and their teachers.
“I saw that a lot of educators didn’t understand the communities the kids come from,” Deborah said. “The kids would lash out, and not because they were angry with the school but because they didn’t know how to communicate.” Deborah stepped in to work within the system to speak with teachers so they would have a better understanding of their students.
Within D’s Soul Food Café, Deborah runs her child advocacy project called GUMBO (Global United Missions Benefitting Ourselves and Others). “Hopefully this upcoming school year some kids will be able to come here and get free homework help,” Deborah said. “We will be able to feed every child that comes here to go home at night with a free supper.”
On top of providing delicious home cooked soul food, Deborah assists local families through her gardening project in hopes of teaching kids and families how to grow and cultivate their own gardens.
The program, Deborah said, will educate families how to provide food for themselves. According to Deborah, it is important to bring troubled families back to the basics.
“I want to bring hope back to the people.” D’s Soul Food Café provides countless services to the people of Plaquemine, and Deborah was looking for a way to add to her list to better improve her community outreach.
Enter Jacye Guerin. The musically talented 29-year-old Jacye walked into Deborah’s life looking for answers. It was when Deborah closed her eyes and Jacye performed for her that Deborah decided that Jacye should take control of the front of the restaurant.
“I told her to ‘put whatever God puts in your heart to do’,” Deborah said. Jacye brought in a piano and instruments and told Deborah she wanted to start a music group.
“She needed music,” Jacye said. “It was all I could think about.”
Every Thursday for lunch, Jacye would perform for restaurant-goers. She quickly saw the potential that it could be much more, thus the weekly jam sessions were born.
Around 6 p.m. every Wednesday night, musicians from all walks of life enter the restaurant, with or without an instrument, in hopes of creating a uniting atmosphere through the power of music at aptly named “Soul Jam Sessions”.
“I couldn’t tell you if someone was homeless or if someone lives in a mansion,” Deborah said. “They come in here as a group of people having fun and loving each other. That’s what this whole project is about.”
After the first open-mic night, attendance doubled. “Everyone from the week before brought someone,” Jacye said. “And then they brought someone else. I looked around and all I saw was a family.”
Jacye said she finally found the path she was desperately searching for.
“I want this program to help people,” Jacye said. “There just happened to be so many musicians in Plaquemine that had no way to express themselves, and thank God that Miss ‘D’ opened a place like this.”
Starting the jam sessions not only touched the lives of musicians of Plaquemine, but it affected Jacye’s immediate family as well. Her father, who hadn’t touched his saxophone in over 20 years, picked up his instrument for the first time to play with his daughter.
According to Deborah, visitors walk into D’s Soul Food Cafe’ with empty stomachs, empty souls and equally empty wallets, but Deborah feeds them anyway. “Some people don’t have any money but they’re hungry,” Deborah said. “And they faithfully come back when they get their check and pay for their meal.”
The project has been a giant leap of faith for Deborah and Jacye, but the impact the Soul Food Café has on the lives of the community makes the leap all the more worthwhile.