Maya-Camille Broussard's Charitable Pies Inspire Social Justice in Chicago
The Justice of the Pies baker isn’t letting a pandemic stop her.
The future can be molded. Maya-Camille Broussard, owner of Justice of the Pies, is sure of that after having manifested a dream client -- the Obama Foundation -- and getting to meet the former president himself.
“One of the most important things about creating a vision board is to be very clear about your ask,” says Broussard. “Don’t just cut out words from a magazine and paste them onto a white board. The words don’t mean anything if it doesn’t clearly visualize what you want.”
Broussard founded Justice of the Pies, a bakery specializing in sweet and savory pies, quiches, and tarts, in 2014. The business pays homage to her father Stephen J. Broussard, a criminal defense attorney with an affinity for baked goods, who passed away in 2009 as a result of a brain tumor. With her vision board in mind, Broussard added an image of President Barack Obama and the logo for the Obama Foundation to her 2018 collage, in an attempt to materialize a working relationship.
“[Justice of the Pies] was created to celebrate [my father’s love of pie] but to also honor his belief that people deserve second chances,” Broussard. “His goal wasn’t to get rich. He wanted to represent people who he felt deserved a fair fight in court. He was familiar with the upbringing and life of his clients. [My father] grew up in the projects -- there was this deep desire to represent people who looked like him.”
Broussard carries on his legacy -- using pie crusts instead of the Constitution -- but the family fight for justice and equality remains the same. Justice of the Pies is registered as a low-profit limited liability company, so this social enterprise model creates a tax structure friendly to donors. Broussard sells through partners located across the city instead of having a brick-and-mortar location. Current retailers include Soho House, Goose Island Brewhouse, Ina Mae Tavern, Frontier, and Eleven | Eleven Chicago.
When the pandemic hit, Broussard shifted from selling her products at farmers markets, festivals, and fairs (which were mostly shut down), to feeding front-line workers, primarily on the city’s south side. To date, she's made, packaged, and delivered more than 3,200 meals. Notable names, such as Kerry Washington and the cast of Scandal, and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, stepped up to sponsor meals through Broussard’s business.
Broussard sees food as an accessible entry point to various communities for learning. Right now, that means using her food business to advocate for people living with disabilities. There is no reliable database tracking how people with disabilities or mental health issues are affected by police brutality. However, advocacy groups including the National Alliance of Mental Health’s Illinois chapter say the number is substantial -- at least half the deaths caused by police involve a victim with a disability or mental health issue. This is of great concern for Broussard as a Black woman with what she calls an “invisible disability.”
Broussard is hearing impaired and uses hearing aids and reads lips to communicate -- a feat made more difficult by the face masks required during this pandemic. If anyone calls or attempts to converse with her and she is not facing them head on, it is very likely Broussard will not acknowledge them, which could result in a misunderstanding or other altercation. It’s not far-fetched to say a similar encounter involving police could end in tragedy.
“There needs to be better understanding and compassion among police with how to approach and talk to people who are living with a disability,” says Broussard. “If someone is treated more fairly by police, they could be apprehended without being killed.”
Broussard’s fight for justice does not begin and end there. She fundraises for Cabrini Green Legal Aid. Broussard partnered with the organization, which offers its services citywide, in 2017 for a pie-drive where 20 percent of sales benefitted the organization. Her participation in the event, and others like it, allow children who look like her to see themselves in a similar role. Representation influenced her mission in educating the Black community, specifically children, on the power of food. It is yet another piece of Broussard’s business that is inspired by her father.
“There was a lot of trauma for him with the availability of food as a child,” says Broussard. “He didn’t always have access to food growing up.” As a result, in his adult life, Broussard’s father prioritized eating right.
Broussard began hosting I Knead Love, a one-day workshop for fifth to eight graders from low income communities, in 2017. Lessons covered nutrition, healthy eating habits, and basic cooking skills that encouraged creativity in the kitchen. The primary goal of the program was to instill confidence in children who were food insecure. The pandemic has kept Broussard from continuing the classes in person.
And as much as Justice of the Pies is a reflection of the hard times her father faced, it is also the manifestation of a vision to evolve past trauma. There is a family trait that runs through the Broussards -- they know what they want and work to bring it to fruition. Broussard worked alongside chefs Erick Williams, owner of Virtue; Brian Jupiter, owner of Frontier and Ina Mae; and Carlos Gaytan, owner of Tzuco, to prepare a meal for 400 guests such as the Obamas and Billy Porter. She met Obama at the end of night where they exchanged pleasantries and took a photo together. Her sweet potato pies for the meal led to Porter sharing a story about his first Thanksgiving with his husband.
“[Porter] wasn’t used to the items they were serving at the dinner,” Broussard shares. “He wanted mac and cheese and candied yams, but they had green beans with onions. It was a very white Thanksgiving dinner. But then, he eyed a pie in the middle of the table and got excited because he recognized the orange custard as sweet potato pie, which is very Southern. So he stuck his fork, brought it to his mouth and was very disappointed to discover it was pumpkin pie.”
Recalling the memory makes her laugh as she explains how “pie is universal but the way it is filled can be informative of a person’s culture -- there’s always a story to why.”
Broussard also recently launched Justice for All, a subscription based service for cooking classes taught by her.
“People are experiencing pandemic fatigue and they are not donating as much,” says Broussard. “I have some anxiety, but I'm focusing on staying positive and trying not to get swallowed by the worrisome thoughts. I can’t allow myself to get into that place because it'll be a hard place to come back from.”
As for what’s next, for Thanksgiving, she will do a satellite pop-up site where people can pick-up their pies. Last year, she completed 300 orders in one day and she doesn’t expect this year to be any different.
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