Special Projects Director
Jafar Flowers — an artist, DJ and eminent face in many of VCU’s creative circles — still laughs when they remember the cringeworthy scene that took place when they talked to a DJ during a set at one of Richmond’s most popular bars.
“I asked him to play Migos or something,” Flowers said. “He told me to come back on urban night.”
Flowers knows from first-hand experience that Richmond night life can be an unwelcoming environment for people in marginalized communities. And that highlights the necessity for Flowers’ brainchild, Ice Cream Social, a dance party which looks to provide something of a safe space for queer and/or transgender people of color, a group often referred to as QTPOC.
Ice Cream Social, taking place on the first Friday of every month, typically punctuates DJ sets with live performances by artists of varying genres like techno, electronic dance music, trap and R&B. White and straight people are allowed to attend, but the billed artists usually consist of QTPOC. Flowers organizes, bills and curates the events, and frequently steps in to DJ.
The name may seem curious, given the fact that ice cream isn’t served or even discussed at the event, but it’s actually laughably straightforward.
“Everybody loves ice cream,” Flowers explains.
Flowers decided to create the event after going to similar parties in other cities. When they came back to Richmond, they realized just how badly the River City was crying out for a space in which QTPOC could feel secure knowing they could be themselves and dance.
“For me dancing is a really huge form of healing and catharsis.” Flowers said. “It literally feels like stress and oppression is gone in that moment [when dancing].”
The collective was founded months before the mainstream Richmond bar scene reached an arguable peak in incidents of thinly-veiled racism. In the fall of 2016, a new dress code at 7 Hills Brewing Co. in Shockoe Bottom banned accessories like Timberland boots, large chains, do-rags and Black and Mild cigars — a list some suspected was meant to target black people. Around the same time, the music booker at Balliceaux, a bar which used to be in the Fan District, resigned after public furor he had caused by wearing a blackface costume for Halloween.
It was hard for people in marginalized groups to book sets in this type of atmosphere, Flowers said, and that’s exactly the problem Ice Cream Support Group and Ice Cream Social were meant to help remedy.
“It’s been a great vehicle for me,” said Sophia Lakis, a local DJ. “It’s the first regular party that I can guarantee if I’m not playing, I’ll be attending and promoting.”
The group, which was founded by Flowers and Richmonder Christian Something, started out as a few people getting together to talk about music, movies and to host DJ nights — at which people would come dance to spins by their close friends, oftentimes at Flowers’ house.
More than two years later, it has burgeoned into a staple in the local DIY music scene. DJ nights at Flowers’ house turned into Ice Cream Socials with several-month-long residencies at Gallery5, and until last month, Flora, two of the most highly frequented bars among VCU students.
When it comes to growth, there’s no end in sight for Support Group or Social — both are undergoing a transition period. The former is looking to revamp the roster of artists and has plans for a number of events in the future, while Social is looking for a new host venue post-Flora.
These changes, Flowers said, make for exciting times ahead.