Caleb Camara couldn’t wait for July 7 to come.
For months, Camara, in his position as associate director in the D.C. Mayor’s Office on African American Affairs, planned for a business expo to take place at Sandlot Anacostia in Ward 8 in Southeast. He reached out to Black entrepreneurs to participate, urging them to show their wares and share advice on how to survive and thrive in the District’s competitive food industry.
The problem: rain.
Throughout the four-hour event, the rain persisted, causing entrepreneurs, the attendees, and the booths at the expo to get wet. Despite calls to postpone the expo, Camara stuck with his plan and allowed it to proceed.
“We at the Mayor’s Office on African American Affairs follow Mayor Bowser’s plan on equality and giving a fair shot for businesses,” Camara said. “This expo gives Black businesses a chance to show their products. While the weather is not the best, we hope to offer entrepreneurs access to opportunity and the chance to communicate with each other and to customers.”
The expo was held in concert with the DMV Black Restaurant Week, an organization promoting the patronage of African American eateries in the Washington metropolitan area. The actual DMV Restaurant Week will take place the week of July 16. DMV Black Restaurant Week co-founder Furard Tate circulated throughout the venue talking with attendees and business owners while co-founder Dr. Erinn Tucker emceed the event.
The Rev. Thomas Bowen, who serves as the director of the Mayor’s Office on African American Affairs, attended the event, and spoke about the need for strong Black entrepreneurship in the District. He echoed Camara, saying the Bowser administration fully backs African American businesses and with its food grants program, wants them to thrive.
A panel discussion took place under a series of umbrellas while the rain continued. Among the panelists were Ronald Williams, a Ward 7 resident who owns the Capital City Seafood Hub and Darrell Gaston, the owner of Kitchen Savages, a chic restaurant located on Good Hope Road in SE in Ward 8. The subject was food and farming and Kristina Noell, the executive director of the Anacostia Business Improvement District, served as the moderator.
Gaston praised the Bowser administration for its programs and encouraged entrepreneurs to learn more about what the District government has to offer.
“Do the research and find out what is available for you,” he said.
Williams, 42, said Black food entrepreneurs need to think about growing their food naturally instead of buying from suppliers. He pointed out traveling to the waters of Maryland Eastern Shore communities to fish for the seafood he offers to District customers, in addition to utilizing suppliers from other states.
Despite the stormy weather, Williams visited the booths and chatted with attendees. He said the mayor’s expo was “an excellent idea.”
“I am a fan of the administration’s work of setting aside money for businesses located east of the Anacostia River,” he said. “They are supportive of Black food entrepreneurs. This administration knows what the needs are.”
Williams said access to capital is the primary need and “putting capital into businesses is important.”
“I am glad that I attended this event because it highlights the initiatives and projects that folks can learn about,” he said.
Camara said there will be future mayor’s expos for Black businesses. He did have one wish for the next one.
“I hope the weather will be better,” he said.