The term “Jive Tukey” wasn’t always positive, but businessman Harry Todd hopes to redefine its meaning and impact. A lifelong Detroiter, Todd has always been sociable, popular, and successful but founded Jive Turkeys in 2018 to add substance to that equation.
“I was shopping at Kroger, buying groceries, and saw a family— mom and two children who were also shopping,” he said. “The kids asked for certain things, and the mom repeatedly declined their requests.” Todd discretely whispered to the cashier and quietly purchased their groceries. “It felt good. But as I walked out, I realized I had only helped one family,” Todd recalled. “What could I do to help others? I shared the story with friends, and everyone wanted to jump on board and help.”
The mission, “Feeding families is what we do,” was born. Todd wanted a name that reflected what he wanted to do—redefine giving. He felt Jive Turkeys was a fun way to put a new spin on those words, and helping others.
The term Jive Turkey was urban slang used by comedian Redd Foxx and popularized by the Ohio Players who released, “Jive Turkey” in 1974. The phrase depicted a person who was unreliable and talking trash. The song repeatedly begged, “Give it to me straight, baby. Jive turkey…”
“I wanted to change the narrative of what that meant,” Todd said. “As a nerd and a marketing major in college, I thought this was whimsical and could have an important impact.” What better place than home?
What began as passing out $50 gift cards randomly in a local market has evolved into a strategic gathering and distribution of enough food for families to each feed ten people. Todd and his team went through passing out food at a local spot, which he said was a logistical nightmare, to now partnering with Jive Turkey Ambassadors to identify and distribute to families in need.
Partners to identify families include Detroit Public Schools Community District and Neighborhood Service Organization. Todd has also used his social connections to establish valuable donor partnerships, including the Detroit International Bridge Company, Target, Amazon, and Rocket Foundation. He also acknowledges the individuals who donate and rock the Jive Turkey merchandise.
The campaign is not just limited to Thanksgiving. Todd and his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc. where Todd serves as president of the Gamma Lambda Chapter, recently took 200 kids to Target, where they opted for milk, diapers, and food for their siblings over toys for themselves. A harsh view of the realities too many kids face today. “Every day in Detroit, kids come home from the liquor store or gas stations with snacks for food.” That’s not a good thing.
While need and donating are nothing new, how they are done has changed. “When I was younger, my mom volunteered at Mother Waddles,” he said. “It taught me the importance of giving. Black families were always giving-feeding families, neighbors, and strangers. That’s what we are born and bred to do.”
Nothing is wrong with needing or giving, but Todd frowns upon the public showcasing what should be a sincere and caring act. “We never take or post pictures of giving food to those in need. This isn’t about exploiting their need or our generosity.”
The calendar and geographic footprint have expanded beyond Thanksgiving and Detroit and now include Flint, Inkster, and Pontiac. It also encompasses pizza parties for all students, not just the achievers, gas giveaways, and a heartfelt give back to the Detroit Police Department, where families of fallen officers were supported and precincts fed for an entire weekend.
Todd feels feeding has always been a sign of love and caring for others but sees Jive Turkeys as a community SWAT team, seeing and responding to timely needs. “We’re not giving back, we’re giving UP! If the need exists, we will meet it,” he said. “And as the need in our community continues to grow, so will we.”