A festival on the east side of Indianapolis puts the spotlight on Black-owned businesses, and yet the gathering is about much more than merch.
“I've always loved and enjoyed going to the, you know, the Black Expo every summer, and there was an opportunity not just to go into shop, but to fellowship and be in the community with people that I hadn't seen in I don't know how long,” Dominic Dorsey said.
That's why seven years ago, Dorsey – co-founder of the community group Don't Sleep – went on social media and said, “Hey, I would love it if we just got like 100 Black-owned businesses in the space together where we could support them. You know, we're not charging them an exorbitant fee, we're not doing a whole bunch of marketing. Just an opportunity to give people an opportunity.”
That’s how the first Black Owned Business Block Party was born in 2016. Now, Dorsey and his team put on four of those events every year. The next one is “Melanin in May” on Saturday, May 27.
Whenever Dorsey opens up registration for Black-owned businesses for these festivals, those slots fill up in a matter of days.
“In the process of doing these events that people saw their side hustle or their hobby, especially since the pandemic, I think people started to realize that this is something that I could turn into a viable business. This is a dream that I had. These people are now seeing what's possible,” Dorsey said.
One of them is Rockland Page, the owner of ROCKaBLOCK.
“ROCKaBLOCK is my clothing brand and custom apparel printing service,” Page said.
Page grew up on the near east side of Indy. He now lives in Merrillville in Northwest Indiana, because he used to work what we would call regular jobs in Chicago.
“I was a graphic designer for years. I worked for Ebony Magazine, Jet magazine, Chicago Tribune, and finally an engineering firm before I got tired of being told what to do,” Page said.
Page quit the nine to five and went into business for himself five years ago. Like any business, he said, there have been ups and downs, but it's mostly been good. He's doing what he wants, and events like “Melanin in May” have helped make that happen for himself and other entrepreneurs.
“The way Dominic sets up his events. It gives small businesses a platform that they might not have had otherwise," Page said. "And it's not just for businesses. It's just a good way for the community to come together in a peaceful setting, listen to music and have great food.”
Indeed, these are block parties with Black-owned food trucks, kids activities, and some of Indy's top entertainers, like Native Sun, the Brothers Footman, Fliparachee, Skypp and Allison Victoria.
You’ve seen the phrase “Black-owned” a lot here, not to mention the references to skin color in the names of the festivals themselves – “Melanin in May” and the Fall Festival, “Blacktoberfest.”
Dorsey said these events are not exclusionary. But let there be no doubt – these festivals are about unapologetic Blackness.
“There's so many spaces where people are telling folks that you know you're loud, you're ghetto. That's not the space for this,” Dorsey said. “Unapologetically Black means who you are, how you wake up every day, and how you show up is beautiful, and we're going to celebrate that. So in this space, I want you to come and bring all of that energy and see how it feels to be loved for it.”
“So that's unapologetic Blackness in a nutshell. That is taking this concept of Black joy and making it into something revolutionary. And not just Black people getting a taste of it, because there's White folks in the audience," Dorsey continued. "There's Latino brothers and sisters. There's Asian brothers and sisters. It doesn't matter your religious background, your socio-economic background. People come in, they love it, and they want to figure out how they can get a piece of it and bring it back to wherever they are. If you've ever felt repressed, if you've ever felt like you're not enough, an event like 'Melanin in May' is made for you.”
“Melanin in May” is this Saturday, May 27, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Community Alliance of the Far East Side (CAFE). Information is available at MelaninInMay.com.