People from all across the country are pouring into the city during Essence Festival this week to experience the vibrant culture, food and music of New Orleans. Throngs of tourists and locals flood the buzzing streets near the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to enjoy the festivities.
But for locals that won’t be involved with the Essence Festival, the Maroon Workspace partnered this year with the Ashé Culture Arts Center to put the spotlight on Black business owners, local artists, and culture bearers, kicking off the Maroon’s inaugural BLK Marketplace.
The two-day event features celebrity guest appearances, vendors, brass brands, and culture bearers such as the Zulu Tramps and the Baby Dolls. There will also be a variety of panel discussions on topics including entrepreneurship, activism, mental health and arts beginning Friday (June 30) and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Maroon Workspace on Fulton Street.
The Maroon’s parent company JDR Consulting was contacted by Essence last year to help bring in local vendors, performers and oversee logistics to create a successful outdoor marketplace.
That experience led the Maroon to launch its own marketplace this year during the Essence Festival weekend.
“What we wanted to do was to make certain that we were still having something available for locals,” said Jawan Alexander, CEO of Maroon Workspace, adding that partnering with Ashé, a sister organization, was an easy connection because of the way they organically serve the community, Alexander said.
The vendors are at the center of it all, Alexander said.
“We have to understand how to build our cultural economy and it’s through these kinds of events,” he said.
Diva’s Shoebox, a fashion brand and online business selling women’s shoes and apparel, is one of the 25 vendors who will be set up on Fulton street.
“It’s important to me because it’s our people,” Delveccio “Del” Offray, owner of Diva’s Shoebox, said. “It’s [the Maroon] in the heart of the city, so you meet people from all over.”
Black hair will also be highlighted at the Maroon BLK Marketplace. The event will feature New Orleans barbers and hair stylists who are set up to create last-minute looks for Essence.
“If I want to buy a pair of sneakers, there’ll be a sneaker popup. If I want to get my hair braided, I can leave with braids down my back,” said Alexander speaking about the many ways people can engage with the marketplace.
Attendees of the two-day event will have the opportunity to shop Black businesses, participate in conversations on important topics and check out art performances. The Ashé and Maroon partnership was a perfect collaboration, said Cierra Chenier, chief experience officer at Ashé.
“It’s also important to elevate those who make the culture what it is,” Chenier said. “By showcasing, we should be able to source out, hire, prioritize and pay our local artists.”
DJ Fùnké, a female DJ, who is also a part of Essence’s SOKO NO.LA., will provide music for the Maroon BLK Marketplace.
“This platform allows me to showcase and expand House Music and Black Dance Music,” Fùnké said. “It allows me to captivate a mix of familiar and unfamiliar audience to a movement that is normally missed in Essence programming.”
Alexander hopes the Maroon BLK Marketplace will spark a sense of Black joy and empowerment as well as build and foster community.
“I am hoping that when these small business entrepreneurs and even our visitors, locals, and folks that’ll be coming in for Essence, they look at this almost like a family reunion,” Alexander said.
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