Hip-hop culture isn’t exactly known for promoting healthy lifestyle choices. Most mainstream songs encourage the opposite—liquor, drugs, and reckless spending of cash. Songs like Dead Prez’s “Be Healthy” never even stood a chance at cracking the Top 40. That’s because, as the NY duo famously stated: “It’s bigger than hip-hop.”
Brandon McEachern, founder of Broccoli City Festival in Washington, D.C., witnessed the greater societal problem firsthand. He was working for MTV in Santa Monica, California but frequented South Central Los Angeles to visit friends.
“When you go to Santa Monica everybody is happy and running around, but when you go to the hood it seemed like people were sad. There was a lot of despair,” McEachern says. “What I noticed was when you go to Santa Monica, there are salad bars and juice bars on every corner. When you go to South Central, what do you see on every corner? Liquor stores; McDonald’s on every block. That type of stuff affects your way of thinking.”
That’s when the seeds for what would become Broccoli City—a multicultural Earth Day festival promoting healthy living and environmental sustainability—was planted.
“I felt like nobody in our community was doing anything on Earth Day, and when they did do stuff it was never geared toward blacks, Hispanics, or other minorities. I thought it would be so cool if I could bring awareness to my community without being preachy,” the 32-year-old North Carolina native says. “The best way to touch folks is through music.”
Enter the Global Coolin’ Earth Day Block Party. Held in L.A. for the first time in 2010, it featured healthy food vendors and some of the most buzzed about L.A. rap artists of the time, including Dom Kennedy, Pac Div and, buried deep on the flyer, a fledgling Kendrick Lamar.
Despite the event’s success, there was too much competition in L.A. With his partner Marcus Allen and several relatives residing in D.C., McEachern saw the need for a similar event in the nation’s capital.
“They call D.C. the ‘Chocolate City,’” McEachern says. “There’s just something about the culture. It’s growing. It’s a good melting pot [and] there’s a lot of people of color there.”
They kicked off the first official Broccoli City festival in 2013. It was headlined by southern rapper Big K.R.I.T. and featured acts such as alt-R&B singer JMSN and DJ Tittsworth, among others. The festival also featured healthy food, yoga and fitness demos, art, and more. With time, the acts have gotten bigger: R&B icon Erykah Badu and uber-talented celebrity offspring Jaden and Willow Smith, among others.
McEachern admits that he uses the music to lure people in so he can expose them to the healthy aspects of the festival. “It’s like putting the medicine in the dog food,” McEachern explains.
A big part of that exposure is being able to secure vendors such as Whole Foods who are willing to give away free products.
“Healthy food is expensive, but when you go to Broccoli City, healthy food is free,” McEachern says. “You might be walking through the festival and someone might just run up on you like, ‘Yo, you want this strawberry juice?’ You’ll be like, ‘Alright, I’m a try it.’ The next week when you’re at the grocery store like, ‘I’m about to buy beer, but I also had that good juice at Broccoli City. Let me get this juice, too.’ And that’s where it starts.”
This year’s festival is on April 30 at the St. Elizabeth East Gateway Pavillion. It features acts such as R&B singer Jhene Aiko, Grammy-nominated band The Internet, buzzing singer and rapper Anderson .Paak, and soulful crooner BJ the Chicago Kid, along with a second stage for local up-and-comers.
The big bait, however, is headliner and unstoppable Atlanta rap force Future. The “Fuck Up Some Commas” rapper might not be the first to pop up when you envision an Earth Day festival, but that’s exactly the point.
“You can’t preach to the choir. I want to touch everybody, especially in our demographic. Artists like Jhene Aiko—she’s cool, she’s conscious and that’s beautiful—but at the end of the day I wanna touch my people in the gutta. Those are the ones that really need the help,” McEachern says. “If I can get them to come just because they want to hear Future, once they get there, they have no choice but to see this stuff. Even though they’re gonna rock out to ‘Commas,’ on the way to see that, they end up getting blessed with some type of knowledge and some awareness of living healthy and sustainability.”
McEachern’s end-goal is to bring the festival to multiple cities and to make it free. He’s already put a piece of that in motion.
While the festival has already sold all of its 11,000 tickets—not surprising considering general admission was $59—people can still gain access through Broccoli City’s Earn a Ticket program. McEachern and his partners host events leading up to the festival where anyone who volunteers an hour or two of their time can walk away with a physical ticket in hand. The events usually sell out within minutes (they charge a $10 fee for supplies), according to McEachern. In recent weeks, dozens of volunteers have fed the homeless through efforts at DC Central Kitchen and social media inspired movement #HashtagLunchbag, and have helped plant a garden at an elementary school.
“Nobody wants to be unhealthy,” McEachern says. “It’s about somebody presenting it to them in a way they can understand it. It’s about meeting people in the middle and really being able share this message, and us coming together as people of color and really standing up for our health and standing up for our families and standing up for our communities.”