Melanin Market Comes Through for Black Businesses With Latest Event


By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

WILLINGBORO — The rain and the cold provided no deterrent from what has become the main showcase for small African American businesses in South Jersey on Saturday (March 25) as The Melanin Market Experience did not disappoint entrepreneurs and supporters.

More than 1,000 visitors greeted the roughly 100 businesses that filled the John F. Kennedy Center in Willingboro for the daylong event, featuring a wide variety of businesses from food vendors, clothing, art, real estate business, financial institutions and seemingly everything in between.

There was musical entertainment and a fashion show that accompanied the market, where visitors spent hours shopping, meeting and talking with various vendors.

READ: Mother, Daughter Bond with Catering Service at Melanin Market

“This is a beautiful thing,” said Cory Cottingham, one of the original founders of The Melanin Market with Lamar Robinson. Cottingham, a longtime community activist who owns the vegan restaurant Shokra Soups in Willingboro said the market is about community as well as business.

“We’re just striving to bring awareness to the circulation of black dollars from hand to hand, especially small businesses,” Cottingham told Front Runner New Jersey during the event. “One of the things that’s very important to us is that we grow and build, be able to hire an employee. Local economics is very important to us because it helps build jobs and helps get you out off the street.”

Respected educator and author Rann Miller was promoting his book “Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids” while award-winning diversity advocate Shelja Touri, the founder of the Diversity and Equal Opportunity Network (DEON), shared the goals of her nonprofit.

Across the aisle, Mark Ellis engaged potential homeowners at his real estate booth. At another location, the owners of Dots Dogs and Catering LLC offered carnival food and promoted their upcoming food truck. Hope Bristol of Simply Yours displayed her spa collection.

Cassandra Ulrich said after a career in engineering, she has been working on her “side hustle” as an author of numerous books and The Melanin Market has proven to be reliable to exposing her work to a new audience.

“No matter what somebody is doing, if they are thinking about expanding their activities and their creativities to other areas, they should go for it,” Ulrich said. “If I had just stuck with doing math-related work, I would miss out on all of the joy that I brought people with my writing.”

There were booths on health care and beauty products, a variety of clothing, and so on. The Melanin Market on Saturday proved to be a home of just about every business for African Americans and people of color.

“The response has been phenomenal,” Cottingham said. “They love coming here and they feel proud being surrounded by other business owners. They have made statements that we make it cool to support Black businesses. That’s good to hear because that’s what we strive for.”

The Melanin Market had something for everyone. During the fashion show, a local dance company called The Conglomerate performed. The coaches of the dance group from Willingboro engages youth up to 18 years old.

“This is our third time performing for The Melanin Market,” one of the coaches told Front Runner New Jersey. “It’s a great opportunity because it gives us a lot of exposure, a lot of networking to meet other dance teams and just different entrepreneurs in the area.”

Cottingham said The Melanin Market will hold an event in North Carolina May 6 in a effort to grow the spirit of businesses of color.

“[The North Carolina organizers] reached out to us about doing an event,” Cottingham said. “So as these other groups are reaching out to us, we’re just excited to bring that energy of creating more awareness of supporting Black businesses compared to other ethnicities.”

As Saturday proved, The Melanin Market reached new heights in their sixth year.

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