By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
WILLINGBORO – The hot sun beamed down on more than 150 vendors in Millcreek Park Saturday afternoon for the first summer edition of The Melanin Market Experience, but the action was hotter among the African-American small businesses and supporters who came together in unity to support each other.
The Melanin Market Experience is the creation of Cory Cottingham along with Willingboro natives Arrington Crawford and Lamar “MarWeeZee” Robinson in 2017 to generate exposure and revenue for small African-American businesses.
Saturday represented another forward step for the event, going from the confines of indoor locations with limited space to sprawling Millcreek Park, where vendors spread out to not only share their products, but learn about, and from, each other.
“We’re changing the narrative (about African-American businesses),” Robinson said Saturday as activity buzzed all around him. “It’s been about collaboration over competition. We all go a lot of different places for our products but we don’t know who has what in our community. This is a way for all the businesses to come together and see who has what.”
A sea of tents and vendors circled the stage area, where entertainers performed, sponsors were introduced and announcements were made about the businesses along with special guests. Robinson, who played emcee most of the day, keep the visitors engaged as cars and customers streamed through Millcreek Park.
“I thought it was important for me to be involved because I’m a black-owned business myself, with The Billion Brand,” Crawford said as he walked (quickly) from staging area to staging area to keep the event moving.
“I’ve been in business for seven years now and run three different companies. I felt I brought to the table how to run a business professionally and how to diversify and present yourself. Sometimes our people don’t succeed not because they can’t, but because they don’t know. So it was an obligation for me to be a part of something like this to help businesses because that’s what they needed,” he added.
Crawford said The Melanin Market was “not the ordinary business fair or boring professional setting.” He said what makes the festival different is its interactive platform and events that help businesses benefit from taking part.
Dr. Chuck Morris, owner of Fulcrum Performance, came on as a major sponsor of Saturday’s event. He said once he learned about what the founders of The Melanin Market Experience was doing, he was on board.
“I know what it feels like not to be able to afford something,” said Morris, whose facility trains the likes of World Cup champion soccer player Carli Lloyd. “I also know what it means not to be able to see around me what I can possibly be.
“The Melanin Market represents the best of people who look like me and think like me. I feel like it’s my responsibility to help express that to other young people and entrepreneurs to see people like me function at a high level,” Morris continued.
The Melanin Market inspired small, bootstrap business as well. For Clarissa Burroughs and A&J Sweets in Willingboro, it was her third time participating in the event.
“It has always been a great experience here for me,” Burroughs said. “It helped expose by brand to a large crowd and helped me in my presentation.”
The new TriJam Podcast set up near the stage area and interviews business owners about their products and what they hoped to get from the experience. Kyle Maack, created of the Philadelphia-area podcast said he felt it was a natural to get involved and highlight small businesses.
“MarWeezzz, one of the organizers, had been a guest a couple of times on our show and we wanted to know more about his business and how showcase business owners,” Maack said. “He said just come out and do the same at my event and it’s been great.”
Robinson said God had given him the vision of enlarging The Melanin Market.
“It all came together with God,” Robinson said. “Cory had started something called Black Wall Street. I came on it and brought Arrington with me. … Now, we basically have the same amount of vendors as the Essence festival. That’s crazy. We’ve done this in a little under two years. It’s a blessing that we’re here. We want all the black businesses to celebrate with us.”
Crawford said he sees The Melanin Market growing by helping black businesses gain a great understand what is out there in terms of help and collaboration.
“We see people come here to actually get the experience,” Crawford said. “We want to it going to a greater scale. This is our first summer edition outside. Like any small business, you have to take a leap of faith to evolved. We said we’ve done this inside successfully three times, let’s do it outside and give it a summer field.
“We want everyone to continue to follow the movement not by just coming to the event but following us on social media. Everything helps. Sharing a post helps us. Tagging someone on our page helps us. Sharing a website helps us. Telling another business about our program helps us. You the people is what helps us push this to the world,” he continued.
Robinson (Instagram: @MarWeezzz) concurred, adding that the Willingboro event is just the tip of the iceberg in what the Melanin Market can mean.
“We’re all trying to grow and inspire,” Robinson said. “We’re not stopping here. We’re taking Atlanta; we’re taking Charlotte. We’re taking D.C. This is not where it stops, but where it starts, in Willingboro, N.J.”
The Melanin Market Bronze sponsors included Funderburk Famous, Sky Vision Realty, Las Lus Café, The Natural Corner, Black Line News, Seafood Haven, DS Construction and Rita’s.