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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Black Wall Street Festival To Showcase Up-And-Coming Entrepreneurs, Taste Of ‘Black Excellence’ In Woodlawn

South Side Black-owned businesses, an immersive history experience, live entertainment and more will line 61st Street all day Saturday for the free festival.

Supporters of the Black Wall Street Festival spread the word about Saturday's daylong event, including to U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Illinois) at this year's Bud Billiken Parade.
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WOODLAWN — Dozens of Black-owned businesses will set up shop along several blocks of 61st Street in Woodlawn for an all-day bazaar and festival this weekend.

The Black Wall Street Festival is noon-8 p.m. Saturday on 61st Street from Vernon to Champlain avenues. Entry is free, and registration is requested.

About 40 Black vendors will sell their goods, while an immersive history experience, an antique car show, a historians’ panel, a children’s pavilion and more will take place throughout the day.

“The takeaway is to see what Black excellence looks like,” founder and Woodlawn resident Carlas Prince Gilbert said. “Black-owned small businesses have this forum to showcase their business and sell their goods. Many are new and cannot afford a brick-and-mortar, but this gives them an opportunity to show the community what they can get right there in the community.”

Featured businesses include Deztinni, a denimwear brand; BroZac Bling and Things, a jewelry and accessories shop; Havana Coffee Lounge, which sells coffee, tea and desserts such as croissant bread pudding; Intense Pest Control; and JenCare Senior Medical Center.

The festival is named after Black Wall Street, the nickname given to Tulsa, Oklahoma’s historic Greenwood District. The thriving, nationally renowned hub of Black businesses was nearly destroyed in a racist 1921 massacre.

The immersive festival experience will take visitors to a period starting with Black Wall Street’s heyday and running through Black soldiers’ experiences in and after World War II, Gilbert said.

“People will be dressed up in that particular attire that was standard for Black people. You’ll have the experiences of seeing [Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong impersonators], tap dancers and doo-wop singers,” Gilbert said. “This is not just a festival of vendors … we’re creating an experience of Black Wall Street from the 1920s to the ’40s.”

Gilbert owns Prince Realty Group and founded the nonprofit Woodlawn Diversity in Action. Both are based in Woodlawn, while the latter hosts the festival alongside Urban Market Exchange.

Though this year marks the first Black Wall Street Festival, it’s the fifth year Woodlawn Diversity in Action has organized a neighborhood gathering. Past events include the Woodlawn Food Truck Festival, a 5K race and a Vacc to the Class vaccine event.

Gilbert reached out to fellow entrepreneurs in the neighborhood, then expanded to nearby communities such as South Shore, Bronzeville and Hyde Park to fill out this weekend’s event, she said.

“I’ve never met these vendors that are going to be a part of it,” Gilbert said. “I opened it up for everyone because I didn’t want it only to be people that I knew. … When you stay with the people you know, you don’t get the exposure you need. It’s good to reach outside and see what’s out there.”

Programs that unite and support Woodlawn-area entrepreneurs will be crucial to maintaining the neighborhood’s identity as the Obama Presidential Center is built in the neighborhood, Gilbert said.

“You have a lot of residents that have been in Woodlawn for 30-plus years — I want them to still feel a part of it,” she said. “I don’t want them to feel like the Obama Center is going to come in and take over the community.”

The participating businesses will meet again for a to-be-determined event “to keep the momentum going” after the festival, Gilbert said.

“Doing events like this within the community will keep the community strong, and it will keep a platform for small businesses to thrive,” she said. “There’s so much good that the Obama [Center] is going to bring, and this will just enhance it.”

To volunteer with the Black Wall Street festival, call coordinator Quandra Speights at 708-581-6822.

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