Dr. Boyce: From Cooking Crack to Cuisine – Way to go Chef Jeff

Today, I spoke at the Town Hall meeting on the state of the African American male, hosted by Bev Smith.  Bev is the host of an evening talk show with American Urban Radio Networks.  I was on a panel with Al Dotson -Chairman of 100 Black Men of America, Esther Bush -President of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Urban League, and Jeff Henderson -former host of “The Chef Jeff Project” on the Food Network.

The event was outstanding, as I knew that it would be.  The crowd showed up in full form, and there was also a powerful testimony by the mother of Jordan Miles, an 18-year old black honor student who was beaten beyond recognition by undercover officers who appeared to be trying to rob him.  The Miles case (which I recommend everyone take a look at), and the poor manner by which the city has handled it, is a glaring example of the irresponsibility and persistence of police brutality in the city of Pittsburgh.

The most intriguing conversation of the day was with the brother who helped me realize that cooking can be more meaningful than just a healthy meal.  Jeff Henderson has turned his interest in cooking into a teaching tool for those who have yet to learn the depth of their potential.  Jeff was once a drug dealer in South Central Los Angeles, earning thousands of dollars per week as a 19-year old who wasn’t quite sure how to apply his God-given genius.  A product of failed school systems, he felt the pressure to provide for his mother and used drugs as the way to get the job done.  Like many kids in his position, Jeff soon found himself facing a long sentence in federal prison.

The prison became Jeff’s university, where he read every book he could get his hands on and even studied alongside men from the Nation of Islam.  Although Jeff never joined the nation, the organization’s immense discipline and commitment to community rubbed off on him.  Now, Jeff goes around the country giving inspiration to thousands of inmates and young people who wish to emulate his success.  Although he makes handfuls of money on the speaking circuit, he always takes time to visit organizations who can’t afford his services.  He and I both discussed the frustration of not being able to reach all the groups that ask you to stop by, and what a tremendous toll this kind of work takes on your personal and family life.  I got the sense that he understood that leadership is not about stroking your ego – it’s about humbly maintaining your willingness to serve your fellow man and woman.

Jeff and I have agreed to work together in the future on issues related to the mass incarceration of black men and the preservation of the black family, so you should see some of his work at Your Black World.  We are finding that few Americans care what happens to black men or black boys, and my conclusion is that if we don’t stand up and fight on these issues, then no one else will.  From my new brother Jeff Henderson, I learned that this fight can even start in the kitchen.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.



  • Blackcat1915

    That’s wonderful.  It is nice to see a story that could have ended tragicly like so many others have, turn out so positively.  We need more real life everyay success stories.

    • Wdmaximumresult

      I agree we need more everyday success stories. Jeff and I have a lot in common. I served a long federal prison sentence. I was released 2004 and have since gotten a bachelors degree in ministry and a masters in psychology / counseling. I am married with new born twin girls and have committed my life to making a difference in the lives of others.

  • Berdell Fleming

    This is a wonderful story, I have one of Chef Jeff’s cookbooks and the colorful stories
    that go along with the outstanding recipes  are so heart warming.
    Yes, he like so many of our best minds are products of af a failed school systemThe only way for our children to come out is for all of us to help them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shakka-Zulu/1379420279 Shakka Zulu

    I’m very proud of this man who turned a negative situation into something positive…Much success Chef Jeff, looking forward to you having your own cooking show on one of these networks…