Photographer and events coordinator Harvey Fitz held his first vendor festival in Southeast over the weekend, showcasing a side to Black business and culture that is arguably misconstrued and abandoned east of the Anacostia River.
The Anacostia Arts Center hosted the Black to The Future Festival on Saturday, Feb. 29, with many local vendors providing their one-of-a-kind creations and products to over 600 attendees.
“The intent behind creating this particular festival actually started out as an idea that I had — just the ‘Melanin Market,’” Fitz said. “I wanted to do it back during Black Friday for the holidays, and the gentle pushback suggestion was, ‘well, why don’t we save that for our Black History month program?’”
The extra time allowed for Fitz to put deeper thought into the intent and theme of the festival beyond just generating income or fulfilling a program description.
“I wanted specifically to strategically place businesses in here that aren’t just about generating revenue for themselves, but also had a message, a goal, or a purpose for humanity’s betterment — and importantly, Black AF,” Fitz told The Informer.
Fitz received inquiries from over 100 vendors the first day of posting the artist call on Instagram. Harvey, along with Jess Randolph, creative marketing director at the Anacostia Art Center, took two weeks to review vendor submissions to ensure their messaging aligned with the intent and vision of the festival.
Carribean Citations, for example, was a must-have for Fitz, as he believed in their purpose and business practice prior to receiving their request for entry into the festival. Others who made the cut included 16-year old Andrew Burton with his popular original Uncle Dell’s Mumbo Sauce, Jennifer Kouakeu, author of the children’s book “Nina’s Best Self,” and Bianca Alexis with her All Things B. Alexis jewelry line.
Fitz said he intends to have similar events in the future.
“This was the, I guess you could say, the inaugural test to see if this could be a thing, and the results were great,” Fitz said. “We’re looking to plan something similar to this for all women entrepreneurs and brands because March is Women’s Month.”
Saturday’s festival showcased not only the vendors but mini-workshops as well, including a tai chi lesson taught by a Black man and a yoga class taught by a Black woman. The goal was to bring diverse creations and services typically not available to Anacostia-area residents.
“The stigma of southeast Anacostia is so much worse than the reality of you being endangered here,” Fitz said. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had productions to come into our Black Box theater, and we’ve had to strategically put the press days for their productions in the early morning or afternoon because the press have literally said to these people, we’re not coming to view your show after dark in Anacostia.”
The Anacostia Arts Center showcases a number of services not prevalent throughout neighborhoods east of the River. In addition to the unique vendor services offered during the festival, the center’s permanent storefronts such as ELife and MahoganyBooks are town jewels. ELife is the only vegan restaurant east of the River, MahoganyBooks the only bookstore.
“I want this to serve as a message to the community here that you are your strength,” Fitz said. “Gentrification is literally on the forefront of Anacostia, and if you are not as involved heavily as you should be, you are going to get swept up in that wave, and you don’t have to.”