Just one day before Juneteenth, Dallas became the latest city to host the Afro Soca Love tour, one of the biggest Black-owned marketplaces and conventions in the nation.
The event took place across multiple ballrooms at Gilley's Dallas, an event venue with a maximum capacity of 4,000 people.
Hundreds of Black-owned business owners gathered for the event and each one was given a booth space to showcase their product.
The convention was rich with talent and the products on display were incredibly diverse. While there, I met painters, authors, perfume makers, herbal specialists, financial advisors, carpenters, and even pH-balanced, sea moss-infused juice farmers (funny story on that later).
Each ballroom had roughly 20 vendors and booths. Just outside the building, near the entrance to the Afro Soca Love event, there were food trucks and restaurants for patrons to order from.
Of the ten restaurants there, each offered its own unique flavor, matching the variety found at the marketplace indoors.
Below, I wrote about my experience at Afro Soca Love Dallas, some of the businesses that I spoke with, and how they perfectly embodied the fruits and ramifications of Juneteenth for the Black community.
To start, I'll begin with a painter I met by the name of Alexander Isokari. Isokari is a lifelong painter and frequent vendor at Afro Soca Love Dallas.
"I've pretty much been painting all my life, but it was only a few years ago that I began to sell my work," Isokari told me. "This is my third time at Afro Soca and I always enjoy coming here and meeting new people."
When asked about the inspiration behind the characters in his paintings, Isokari said that he typically visualizes a concept in his head.
"These aren't paintings of real people technically," Isokari said. "I usually visualize what I want my painting to look like in my head and I'll sometimes use pictures of people that look like my idea as inspiration."
Isokari typically sells his artwork via his Instagram but also promotes and sales his pieces at pop-up shops like Afro Soca Love Dallas.
BlackLIT CEO and culture-conscious librarian Nia-Tayler Clark also made an appearance at Afro Soca Love Dallas. There, Clark promoted BlackLIT and her upcoming store grand opening.
BlackLIT is an online and mobile store that specializes in sharing literature written by Black authors with bookworms around the globe. BlackLIT is the first monthly subscription box to exclusively highlight both Black authors & entrepreneurs. On a mission to eliminate the literacy gap, lack of positive representation, and the barrier to access that currently plagues the Black community, BlackLIT intentionally curates resources and outlets that highlight Black culture.
Through the BlackLIT website, users are able to subscribe to a BlackLIT box full of enlightening, empowering literature.
"We essentially send out boxes of books written by Black authors as a part of a subscription program," Clark told me. "We aim to include books that will boost self-esteem and empower our readers."
BLACKLIT was founded in April in 2019 and has generated quite the following in just a few years. BLACKLIT has been highlighted in Oprah Magazine and has also received press from Dallas Morning News and Voyage Dallas.
Next month, Clark plans to open the first BlackLIT on-site location in Addison.
"The grand opening to our store is July 2," Clark said. "I'm really excited for our store. We've been doing online orders for a few years, so I'm excited to expand our reach with the new store."
For more information on BlackLIT, visit the official website here.
Tea End Blog
Another business owner I met was Gabie Marie Kelley. Kelley, a Dallas native, founded Tea End Blog, a website that shares tea and book reviews.
"I founded Tea End Blog in 2014," Kelley said. "I share lots of things on the blog..book reviews, tea reviews, and I also interview authors and writers."
Kelley says the site has evolved a lot since its inception, but she is proud of where it is today.
In addition to sharing tea reviews, Kelley also specializes in herbal and tea remedies. All of her remedies are exclusively made with natural ingredients and are great for clearing congestion and enhancing sleep.
"I've been running the blog since 2014 and I love it," Kelley said. "It's been great building a community around herbal and tea remedies."
For more information on the Tea End Blog, visit the official website here.
Mineral Magick, a Black-owned jewelry company that fuses natural gems in its work, was another business present at the Afro Soca Love event.
Each piece was made with natural gems and hand-crafted by the Mineral Magick founder and CEO Essence Monae.
"Once I envision the layout and which crystals to use it usually takes about five minutes to make a bracelet and around 15 to 20 minutes for a necklace," Monae told me.
Monae has been creating handcrafted jewelry since 2018 and has been selling her work for a couple of years now.
For more information on her brand and how to shop, visit her official website here.
Blxck Sheep Ministries
Tyler McCray, the artist behind Blxck Sheep Ministries, is a native of Shreveport, LA and comic artist.
During his time at the Afro Soca Love event, I spoke to him about his drawings and was even turned into a comic myself(!).
"I've been drawing almost all my life and I'm looking to sale my work more," McCray told me. "I've actually been networking with a few people here hoping to get more exposure."
For a copy of his comic book illustrations, McCray did not want to be paid directly and instead asked patrons to donate funds to 5 Loaves and 2 Fish, a non-profit organization in his hometown of Shreveport, LA.
5 Loaves and 2 Fish is a Christian organization that offers assistance to those in need via food pantries, diaper banks, and weekend bible studies. For those interested in making donations, visit the official website here.
To discover more artwork by Tyler McCray, visit his Instagram page here.
Her Sweet Stitches
Symphoni Boston, a first-time vendor at the Afro Soca Love event, promoted her custom rugmaking brand Her Sweet Stitches.
Boston, a San Antonio native, began her business last year during the pandemic. She initially began stitching as a hobby, but eventually morphed it into a business after getting requests for custom pieces from her friends.
After a surge in orders, Boston created a website for her business, where she now accepts custom commission requests.
Prices and turnaround times for the rugs vary by size of the design.
To place an order or learn more about Her Sweet Stitches, visit the official website here.
8586 Stitched, founded by Catrina Wofford and Tinesha Darrough, is a custom pillow-making company.
8586 Stitched was founded in 2019, just before the pandemic started.
Their pillow designs cover everything from universities, to bible verses, to frats and sororities.
For more information on 8586 Stitched, visit their official website here.
Vivian K. Vongor
Vivian Vongor, a native of Liberia, made her debut at Afro Soca Love and promoted her custom-made clothing and accessories.
All of the product in Vongor's line is made in Liberia and shipped stateside. Vongor does not yet have a website, but patrons can reach out to her on Instagram for purchases.
Okay so remember how earlier I mentioned that one of the vendors sold me sea moss juice? What if I told you that the seller was a juice chemist named Tree?
Marquise "Tree" McBride Sr. is a father, entrepreneur, and CFO of fROOT Kaves, a juice-based business he runs alongside his kids.
His children- 15-year-old Marquise McBride II, 12-year-old Kar'Mel McBride, and 7-year-old Carmelo McBride- founded a health-conscious lemonade company five years ago.
"My kids started fRoot Kaves in 2017," Tree told me in a text conversation after the event. "When COVID-19 hit, we were already taking sea moss but began seeing more people doing so."
To learn more about the process of infusing sea moss in drinks and creating pH-balanced lemonade, Tree flew up north to study the farmers of that region.
"I just took our knowledge and resources and flew out to New England to learn to harvest from some sea farmers there," Tree said. "Once I got it down, we brought it back and began adding the sea moss to the kids' lemonade since they were already a big brand in Texas."
McBride Sr. is a former x-ray technician that stepped away from the medical field to focus on his own health. His journey led him to adopt a vegan lifestyle and his kids were inspired to make health-conscious drinks as a result of that.
Looking forward, McBride Sr. and his family hope to go mobile and purchase a truck or trailer for their business.
To learn more about the McBride family and their business, visit the official fROOT Kaves website here.
Well, that's all from me from Afro Soca Love Dallas! For more information on the Afro Soca Love tour, please visit the official website here.