My People’s Market Showcases Entrepreneurs of Color by Reimagining a Market Event
Written by: Bruce Poinsette
Photos by: Tojo Fotos Courtesy of Travel Portland
Heading into the inaugural My People’s Market, many had no idea what to expect. The November 9 event at The Redd in SE Portland was billed as an evening of music, eclectic food, and networking with local entrepreneurs of color, but what would that look like in practice? Jesus Torralba, a SE Portland-born-and-raised visual artist best known for his Chicano-themed art, had seen his fair share of stuffy, convention center networking events. But when he arrived at the Market, it reminded him of his neighborhood.
“Now that I’m doing events, I feel like it’s just a bunch of people that are not really from here or that I’ve never seen before that got other things going on, and it’s very closed in,” says Torralba. “When I walked in [to the market], it was really loving. I already knew a lot of folks and it was hugs and high fives.”
In all, more than 1,200 people attended My People’s Market, a collaboration between Travel Portland, Prosper Portland, Partners in Diversity, and YGB Portland. Nearly 90 different vendors of color from around the Portland area participated and included everything from restaurants to handmade goods to auto repairs. At night’s end, vendors in total brought more than $17,000 in sales. “I think our city craves this and often there are not enough venues for it,” says Tory Campbell of Prosper Portland. “The way it’s been delivered also shows the best of who we are as a city and as entrepreneurs of color.”
Perhaps no moment better encapsulated the evening than a performance by Amenta Abioto. With a packed crowd of all backgrounds surrounding the secondary tent stage, including a group of Black women and a white preschool-aged boy dancing in the front, Abioto put the room in a trance with her ringing vocals, carefree dancing, and mimicking of voices like comedian Katt Williams using her signature looper. Anyone not dancing or simply staring in awe was busy mingling or shopping with one of the many vendors of color in the room.
Abioto was one of a broad range of local acts, including Mic Capes, DJ Anjali & the Gulabi Gang, and the Kukatonon dancers, who were invited to perform by YGB Portland. Charged with curating the evening’s entertainment, YGB Portland is a group of artists who began organizing around the local underground music scene two years ago in order to reclaim music, art, and spaces for Black and Brown creators. Natalie Figueroa of YGB sees My People’s Market as an example of a renaissance happening in the Portland art scene. “We’re really excited that we get to show people the rest of Portland, the rest of the art community that they don’t have access to because they don’t get to go out on Friday nights or come to house parties,” she says.
Tamara Kennedy-Hill of Travel Portland echoes these sentiments. Kennedy-Hill’s agency is responsible for creating economic impact from tourism, and she says it is particularly important for Travel Portland to make the story of Portland one of inclusivity. Specifically, it’s about making sure outside dollars flow into all communities by showcasing them in the most authentic, engaging way possible. “We like food, we like drink, we like dance, we like music, and we like to celebrate being community together,” says Kennedy-Hill. “We couldn’t do that in a stale environment. We had to really make sure it reflected the community we’re supporting.”
This idea particularly resonated with Willis Pritchett, owner of Clock’n Auto & Truck Repair. Pritchett chose to participate in My People’s Market because of the prospect of networking with and potentially hiring youth from his community. A Black man, Northeast Portland native, and business owner of 28 years, he honed his skills first in the automotive program at Benson High School and then studying diesel tech at Portland Community College. Yet, conditions in Portland have hampered his ability to connect with youth of color following in his footsteps. “As you noticed, my logo has a white guy on it because a brother’s gotta eat,” says Pritchett. “I’m servicing people who are not my brothers and sisters and to get into the door, I have to find my way. I’ve had challenges like that even though I’m educated and I have the training and experience to do the work. I still find people challenging my skill level.”
Pritchett was far from the only vendor praising the intentionality of My People’s Market. Desza Dominguez, owner of Joy & Pigment, a handmade goods business, specifically credited the orientation session with not just connecting different entrepreneurs but also helping grow their knowledge base. “What Mercatus brings that’s very different from the past, is that it adds more value for the small businesses themselves,” says Dominguez. “The markets I’ve been in have typically not been that way. It’s more of a ‘Come in, do your thing, and get out,’ which is okay too because it’s still really helpful. But there’s an added value that My People’s Market has brought in which is making connections with one another.”
In addition to separating itself in presentation, My People’s Market also sought to separate its aims from the typical narratives around entrepreneurs of color. Stephen Green, a self-described “recovering banker and venture capitalist,” hopes the event can serve as a trampoline for these businesses to not just increase exposure and sales, but also elevate the conversation. “I think a lot of the stuff that happens here in Portland around communities of color is around anti-poverty,” says Green. “It’s not really around creating wealth. I think at events like this it’s great to be able to not just talk about sales in the marketplace, but also connect with international vendors who can sell your goods and services all around the world.”
Ultimately, the success of the Market is about intentionality, says Campbell. “It’s not magic,” he says. “It’s just intentionality, both in terms of the idea to do it and the intentionality of funding, and not just small budget, but letting it be big budget. Also, the intentionality to let those who have a vision for it actually see it through and not question them and micromanage.”
“More than anything else, this is the counter narrative to the city of Portland. We talk about it’s the whitest city and those things are true, but it dismisses the fact that there are emerging and longstanding and resilient communities of color that also call Portland home, who are shaping and influencing it. I think tonight is a chance to celebrate that.”
Are you interested in supporting the next My People's Market? Let us know contact Amanda Park
Date: November 9, 2017
Location: The Redd