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How This Man’s Famed Honeyed Ham Got His Friends Into Charity

If you go to Friendsgiving with Dezmon Gilmore, you can expect a honeyed ham. Yes, you should bring a bottle of something that the group can drink, or maybe a pastry dish from a bodega, but the ham will be there, provided by Gilmore himself. As will his cheesy mac-and-cheese. Plus, Mexican cornbread, made from a recipe passed down from his grandmother.

“We always had a big Thanksgiving growing up because my mom’s side of the family used to always do one big thing,” Gilmore, a senior publicist at BET says. “My grandmother had 10 kids and she would always bring all of her kids back together. All of my aunts would cook and everybody would put it together; it was a tradition.” Having been mostly raised by his grandmother, Gilmore has inherited that tradition, along with those recipes, and brought them to New York. Not unlike many others who have migrated to bustling cities, away from the families they were born into, he’s collected a family of his own over the past five years, after sifting through a variety of jobs as a flight attendant and public relations person. 

“Personally, I’d say the first gathering was the most memorable for me,” Jai Hawkins says. Though Hawkins is from New Jersey and wasn’t far from family, he was a part of the initial group. “It never dawned on me how many people didn’t make it back home to their families due to work, budget, or what have you.” That group has at times expanded to as many as 15.

“I heard stories about how amazing [Dezmon’s] previous Friendsgiving dinners were,” Cheyenne Beam says of joining the crew about two years ago. Eventually, he found himself a part of the lively group: “The house is filled with laughter, love, and Dezmon’s amazing meals that he works so hard to prepare.”

And while the good food is certainly a pivotal part of the menu, over the past two years, the diners have added another aspect: giving back.

“I actually came from a family that didn’t always have, especially when I was living with my mom,” Gilmore explains. “So in the earlier years, we were moreso receiving things than giving them. One year our house burned down and we had to receive donations from the community and that kind of stuff.” So the ability for him, and his surrogate family of sorts, to now be the ones giving to those in need, represents a direct turning of the tables.

Gilmore, Beam, Hawkins, and other friends who rotate in and out of the circle, have punctuated their holiday seasons by collectively doing a group charity event for the last two years. The idea took on a particular urgency after the election Gilmore explains. They’ve all pitched in in the past, packing lunches for the Hashtag Lunchbag project, or heading to Bushwick to work with the Brooklyn Rescue Mission.

“I try to get involved with at least one charity during the holidays or find some type of give back moment,” Beam says. “We’re so fortunate and there are people out there who have no family, friends, or means to have a happy holiday so if I can play just a small part in that, it means the world.”

For quite a number of them, charity is an all year process: Gilmore did a stint at DoSomething.org where he helped to execute communications for the global nonprofit that motivates young people to get involved with activism.

“There was this guy when we were giving out meals,” Gilmore says of the Bushwick event. “His reaction to us was that most people don’t even look at him, or respond, or even speak when he asks for change, or whatever. He was saying ‘Most people just don’t address us and they act like we’re not present.’ So for him what we were doing felt amazing to feel like someone actually paid attention to him and he wasn’t invisible.”

“That made me kind of emotional a little bit,” he says.

This year, the group plans to pull up stakes — many of them are already traveling — and partner with FeedTheDMV in the D.C. area. And of course, at some point, there will be Dezmon’s ham.

“As a New York transplant who has a big family back home in Memphis, this group of friends become family,” Beam says. And what a family it is.