The Washington Post

Festival looks to uplift Black-owned businesses

Black on the Block organizers hope it will become an annual event

- BY VANESSA G. SÁNCHEZ

About 80 Black-owned vendors and creators gathered in D.C. on Sunday for the first Black on the Block immersive pop-up festival, a Los Angeles-inspired event to showcase Black-owned businesses that often find limited access to exhibit their work.

“It can be really hard for Blackowned businesses, specifical­ly small Black-owned businesses, to get their foot on the ground,” said Black on the Block CEO Lanie Edwards. “To be able to provide a platform for them to do that consistent­ly, every single month is our goal.”

Edwards, who has a small fashion line in Los Angeles, said she was the only Black-owned business in several pop-ups to which she was invited, so she set out to create a space for and by Black people, not only to showcase their work but also to create a network where customers interested in the work Black creators produce can always find them.

At D.C.’S recently renovated Franklin Park at K and 14th streets NW, visitors were offered options to purchase merchandis­e including clothing, art and jewelry exhibited across dozens of stands from D.C. owners and owners from other areas on the East Coast. The festival included live music, food trucks, enclosed areas for VIPS and opportunit­ies for small-business owners to network.

In partnershi­p with National Football League star Stefon Diggs and the Downtowndc Business Improvemen­t District, Black on the Block held its first free event and is expected to continue every year, Edwards said.

Behind tables of unique clothing designs, personaliz­ed ointments and art, entreprene­urs not only talked about business, but also about a history of resilience through which they are creating opportunit­ies as Black entreprene­urs.

Co-founder Tyler Lee said he and his business partner created Black Is Love, a clothing brand with a focus on T-shirts, to increase love in Black culture. They are based in Northern Virginia but sell their clothing online across the country.

Holding a “Black Women are Superheroe­s” T-shirt, Lee said he remembered watching cartoons and movies growing up in which the word “Black” and even Black characters were always associated with negative connotatio­ns.

“People look at the word ‘Black’ in a derogatory way, so we named it Black is Love to kind of change that narrative,” he said.

FTK — For The Kids — founders Gerald Jackson and Andre Revell said their apparel brand takes pride in fashion while honoring educators.

Jackson and Revell said they were raised by educators, so they wanted to combine their passion for art and community service while helping teachers working in under-resourced schools pay for their school supplies.

“We believe no educator should pay out of pocket for school supplies, so a portion of our proceeds goes to under under-resourced educators,” Revell said.

Alexandra Arnold, 32, who cofounded SOLV, a shop that offers self-care products such as candles and crystals, said that in partnershi­p with other female entreprene­urs, she re-created her personal healing journey into a small business selling products with elements of Black spirituali­ty.

“I wanted to create something that allow our voices and our unique cultural experience­s through the lens by which our spirituali­ty is seen,” Arnold said. “Even though we don’t exclude anyone, it’s through the lens of Black women and Black creators and our spiritual experience that we are creating these products.”

 ?? Sarah L. Voisin/the Washington POST ?? Cadence Hollingswo­rth, 10, creates decoration­s Sunday at the Black on the Block pop-up festival in downtown Washington.
Sarah L. Voisin/the Washington POST Cadence Hollingswo­rth, 10, creates decoration­s Sunday at the Black on the Block pop-up festival in downtown Washington.

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