As a self-proclaimed “huge fan” of Ben & Jerry’s, Sean Smeeton had to do a double take when an email from the big wigs at the Vermont-based creamery appeared in his inbox last May.
“We couldn’t believe it,” says Smeeton, the founder of Taharka Brothers Ice Cream headquartered in Clipper Mill. “I’ve always been a fan of Ben & Jerry’s, their business model, and how they started the company. It was pretty awesome that they reached out to us.”
After jumping on a call with the creamery’s global head of marketing, Smeeton found out that Ben & Jerry’s had been tracking Taharka for a while, and was impressed with its social justice-driven philosophy.
Just as Taharka, which primarily employs city youth, has used its hot pink “Change-Maker Mobile” to promote a message of equality throughout the city, Ben & Jerry’s has also promoted its socially conscious mission to make the brand about much more than just peddling great ice cream.
Throughout the years, the international behemoth has launched campaigns about issues such as climate change, the refugee crisis, and marriage equality—creating witty flavors to support each cause. And now, it’s partnering with different creameries to tackle racial and economic injustices.
“They try to use their platform as a way to change the world,” Smeeton says. “They basically told us, ‘We don’t know where this relationship is going to go, but we’d like to get it started.’ And we said, ‘Let’s throw a block party.’”
On Sunday, September 30, both the Taharka and Ben & Jerry’s trucks will post up at the YNot Lot in Station North to host an epic ice cream social from noon to 5 p.m. Aside from offering free scoops to the public, the block party will feature eats from BrickNFire Pizza, live entertainment—headliners will include rapper DDm and hip-hop queen Martina Lynch—and couch Q&A sessions with local leaders addressing politics and culture.
Joining the conversation will be Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen, who is making his way into town for the event. Smeeton says there is a possibility that Cohen’s partner, Jerry Greenfield, will also attend.
“The pressure is on,” Smeeton says with a laugh. “It’s a dream come true to be able to hang out with these guys. I’ve been following them since the ’80s.”
Smeeton is hoping that the partnership with Ben & Jerry’s—which is funding the block party—will help Taharka to truly amplify its mission. Though it has always had a dream to better Baltimore (the truck got its start in 2013 with the help of a Kickstarter campaign that gained support from celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal), the demands of day-to-day production and wholesaling have made it difficult to for the team to get certain projects off the ground.
“We’ve been in survival mode,” Smeeton says. “When you get so bogged down with daily operations, it’s hard to do what you want to do on a social level. So this is almost like a kickoff for us.”
The hope is for Taharka, like Ben & Jerry’s, to support local organizations by creating special ice cream flavors, sponsoring parties, and bringing attention to the issues on social media.
“It’s ice cream, so you can’t be a wet blanket,” he says. “And sometimes activism can get a bit serious. It’s all about finding a way to balance all of that.”
Taharka is toying with the idea of creating a special flavor for the event called, “All the Pieces Matter”—which will incorporate many different elements to symbolize the importance of community and collaboration. Adds Smeeton: “It would be the type of thing where if you took one ingredient out, it just wouldn't be the same.”
Dovetailing on that sentiment, Smeeton says that he hopes the event brings locals from all different parts of the city into Station North.
“Baltimore can be so segmented,” he says. “But we want people of all different ages and walks of life to come and have a good time, eat some ice cream, and maybe find something interesting to take away from the talks. It’s about getting people who normally wouldn’t be at the same block party to all walk down the same streets.”