Celebrating Black Excellence in the Many Forms It Takes: Richard Plummer

Richard Plummer, our Sharples Sous-chef, is a warm, family man at heart. Born and raised in Clarendon, a rural area of Jamaica, Plummer came to the United States in 1999 after going to culinary school. He was interested in being in restaurant or hotel management and started pursuing the culinary field as an occupation here soon after his arrival. This coming June will mark Plummer’s fifth year at Swarthmore. 

In his role as Sous-chef, Plummer organizes the kitchen and interacts with those who are a part of it. He has a strong commitment to collaborating with others in his job.  

 “It’s a vital role because whenever the chef [Benton Peak] is not here, I have to fill that space, I have to make sure everything in the dining hall is running properly. I have to make sure all the cooks are on board. I’ve got to make sure the food is presenting right, it’s tasting right, so I have to go around and check … everyone in the kitchen, including the dishroom operation. Because I believe in teamwork, the whole thing is to be a team at Swarthmore.”

Plummer wanted to go to culinary school from an early age because of his appreciation of his mother’s cooking at home, as well as his exposure to cooking in his schooling. Although cooking has always been his passion, he was always drawn to a particular philosophy of cooking. 

“In Jamaica they have extracurriculars that you can pick like home economics … where I started loving cooking from when I was younger and my mom …  [taught] me. I really believe in home cooked meals and eating from scratch and believe in putting the ground back into your body.” 

The transition to U.S. from Jamaica required Plummer to adjust to a less homogenous country,where he encountered the impact of racism on a more explicit and frequent level.

“It was different because I have to cope with certain stuff that I’m not used to in Jamaica and have to deal with it because [of] certain stuff … here I would see racism … [In Jamaica] our motto is out of many one people. We love everybody, we welcome everyone, so it was a different experience for me.”

The cultural difference was also manifested in Plummer’s introduction to the phrase “Black excellence.” For Plummer, Black excellence is about resilience, determination, motivation and togetherness. Plummer lives his life to encourage others to do their best. 

“I didn’t hear about Black excellence until I came to this school … It was hard growing up as a Black man. So, to see a Black man striving, a Black woman striving and that’s what I like to see [as Black excellence], our Black community coming together as one and striving to make yourself something in life. Even when I’m out on the street, I always encourage Black people, and people as a whole, to strive for something in life.”

Although Plummer is a busy man on campus, he appreciates engaging with the community and feels that the programming celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Black Cultural Center and Black Studies Program has provided more opportunities for community members to gather and to enjoy a collective presence that only can be felt at such a large scale event. 

“I get a little bit tied up in the kitchen so I cannot move around a lot. But when I get a little time, especially [during] the community celebration [at the beginning of the semester], I like that … I get to meet new people and see new faces, which I haven’t met. So that gathering really meant a lot to me. And I liked going into it and [seeing] how people are smiling and coming together as one. So that’s what I like about being here at Swarthmore with those community members.” 

Still, Plummer envisions a Swarthmore community that is even more collaborative and which is characterized by a spirit of collectivism, mutual support and an interest in achieving as a whole. While he enjoys the college and the interpersonal relationships and interactions he has here, he also hopes we set a precedent for coming together. 

“I would like to see more teamwork and coming together … Everybody would be on the same accord and want to reach the same goal. We set a goal and we say, okay, we’re gonna work towards that goal so that’s what I really want to see”

It is not a surprise that Plummer feels the ways he does about the community, given his commitment to family and his broad and accepting use of the term. Plummer is selfless and grounded, and this comes through when he describes the reasons why he cooks and why he pours so much of himself into his relationships. His authenticity and kindness shines through when he talks about his family. 

“What motivates me is my family. I love my family. I’m very family-orientated … once you’re close to me, I treat you like you are family. Even the kids here, the students here, I must say, I treat them like they’re my family because if I’m gonna cook food for them, I’m gonna cook it for you coming from my heart, because I consider you guys my family, so that’s me.”

Outside of the kitchen, Plummer’s favorite thing to do is to enjoy the connections he has with his family and with nature. He gets energy from time spent relaxing. 

“I like to be with my kids  just enjoying them and enjoying the outdoors. Right now I live in the woods so I just like being outdoors and doing some hiking and stuff … My father-in-law has a house down the shore so I like [to go there] and just enjoy my family.” 

Plummer is drawn to those who are his elders, those who are mature and have the wisdom and drive to pursue their goals and encourage others to do this as well. This aligns with his interpretation of Black excellence being about striving and embodying one’s ambitions despite any obstacles.

“I know myself and people who can motivate me, people who want to do better with their life …  I always want to see people grow, but at the same time because you can’t really grow someone they have to want to grow themselves. So for me, my friends, they have to be very motivated and want to do something with their life.”

As an individual, Plummer is concerned with his own growth but also has a strong sense of self. He is both disciplined and at ease, as well as insightful and humble. 

“I’m a very grateful person, and I would say I’m very fun, but at the same time I’m stern when it comes to business … I’m always looking for better because I always want to go higher and grow more. And I’m very positive. I’m not a negative person at all.” 

Plummer’s favorite thing to cook is Jamaican food with a lot of spice (although he likes to experiment with his cooking). Overall, Plummer appreciates his journey to the U.S. and Swarthmore through his path in the culinary arts, and finds comfort in the community he has fostered here. 

“I came here and I learned a lot. When I came here, I liked working alongside with Benton. He makes my day when I come to work.”

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