Mary J. Blige’s Strength Of A Woman Festival (SOAW) returned for a Mother’s Day takeover in a new city this year, along with new faces and places to support.

“We started doing pop-ups at bars, and it was just me and my daughter,” Chef Shelly Flash of 2 Girls & A Cookshop told AFROTECH™ during the third annual SOAW, the festival’s first time appearing in Blige’s home of New York, NY. “We used to get kicked out all the time, and it’s like we just had a mission. We were like, ‘We should share our food with the world because we’re first-gens, and a lot of times first-generation Jamaicans, we’re not represented.’ Either you’re all in the culture or you’re in this melted pot. We are always in this floating melting pot. We live in the best city in the world — that’s New York — and so what we decided to do is just keep putting out one Jamaican taco at a time.”

She added, “And in Jamaica, we always say ‘Out of many, one person.’ At 2 Girls we say, ‘Out of many, one culture.’ We believe that we’re bringing cultures together, and now we’re here.”

After two years of being hosted in Atlanta, GA, Blige and team have taken their talents (and SOAW) up North to New York, the city that raised the “Real Love” crooner.

The sentiment and overall energy of the festival, however, has not changed one bit. Instead, in another partnership with Pepsi, entrepreneurs like Flash and her daughter Jatuan Flash have the opportunity to wow a new audience with their cuisine.

As the returning partner of the festival, Pepsi took things a step further once again by offering those attending some delicious food, custom cocktails, mocktails, and complimentary beverages by way of the Pepsi Dig In Village. A platform within the beverage company used to drive access, business growth, and awareness for Black-owned restaurants, Pepsi Dig In participated at SOAW this year by spotlighting dishes from five Black-woman-owned restaurants, including Melba’s, Slutty Vegan, Aunts Et Uncles, Je T’aime Pâtisserie, and the aforementioned 2 Girls & A Cookshop.

“I’m so thankful that Mary decided, first of all, to bring it to New York from Atlanta. That was huge,” Flash shared. “When I saw that shift, I was like, ‘Yo, we got to be in the building.’ The fact that she continues to pour into us — and I say us with such a heavy spirit because at the end of the day, we have to ground each other, and she continues to big us up, support us, celebrate us… and the fact that every single vendor here today in the food village is a woman-owned business, that was archetype. That is intentionality, and the fact that she sees us because she knows our stories and how we represent this beautiful tapestry.”

What’s more, Flash opened up about experiencing struggles throughout her entrepreneurial journey and how this moment is proof that every setback was worth it.

“The only word that comes to mind is heart-filled,” Flash said of her first experience at SOAW. “I feel so appreciative because coming from Brooklyn, where we used to get kicked out of spots since no one understood, why is there a mom and daughter being able to sell her food and now to be invited by Pepsi themselves — to say we want you to represent your city. We don’t have a chain, we don’t have a brick-and-mortar. We operate out of a food hall, and we do pop-ups.”

She added, “That is humbling and that is heartwarming and heart-filling because that speaks to the testament of the Strength Of A Woman and what they see in us. I’m grateful.”

As one of the fastest-growing sectors, but the least invested in, Flash says curating a space for Black women entrepreneurs is something that she does not take lightly, especially when she knows the hand that she and other women like her — her daughter included — have in moving the culture forward.

“I have chills right now because I could not be in a better room with my daughter and these amazing Black women,” she expressed. “Black women. Black women. Can we say that again? ‘Black women,’ put emphasis on that. We are the ones who are innovators. We are trendsetters. We are the consumers. We look like the consumer. We look like the culture.”

Flash concluded, “The fact that we’re all here and people are actually supporting us and celebrating us is huge so shoutout to Strength Of A Woman. Shoutout to Mary J. Blige. Shoutout to Taraji [P. Henson], Angie [Martinez]. All of them showed us so much love. Shout out to Pepsi.”