Hill District's Ujamaa Collective offered Black Friday alternative
Matthew Salih, of Friendship, looks at eye-glass holders made of beads on sale at the Hope Square Building in the Hill District yesterday.
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Selling hand-crafted jewelry and homemade sweets, the women who gathered in the Hill District yesterday were worlds away from the barrage of bargain-hunters at local malls.
They were artists and artisans, entrepreneurs and business-owners. United as the Ujamaa Collective, they saw Black Friday as a critical opportunity to stimulate black spending in black communities.
"People look at our community and think there's nothing there," said Yejide Kmt, of Homewood.
"If you look around -- just in this room -- you have people that hand-sew things, bead, make vegan food," she said. "This is just a sampling of what is in our neighborhood."
"Spend your money where you live," said LaKeisha Wolf, of the Hill District.
The Ujamaa Collective was formed two years ago by several local women who believe in Ujamaa, a Swahili word that means "cooperative economics."
The day-long bazaar, held at One Hope Square, was the fourth the collective has hosted. The bazaars are intended to promote the women's campaign for a year-round open-air market in the Hill District.
Yesterday, Ms. Kmt sold hand-painted bags, decorated with bright images and sayings. Ms. Wolf sold jewelry, handmade soaps and body products like shea butter, made from fairly traded West African materials. Photographer Gail Manker sold luminous portraits. Celeta Hickman sold paper crafts and beaded jewelry strung by her 13- and 17-year-old sons.
There were few customers during the cold, drizzly morning, but the women chatted warmly and organized their crafts.
Ms. Hickman said she was driven to found the collective in 2007 because she grew tired of hearing local men complain that women sucked up their money.
"We can make our own money!" she said.
When she heard neighborhood women reminisce about the Hill District's history, "they talked about how women stuck together," she said. "How they kept money circulating."
The collective's members said their plan for a market would keep business in the Hill District, providing fresh produce and low-risk entrepreneurial opportunities to residents of the largely black neighborhood.
"The potential for our communities is huge," said Ms. Kmt.
Ms. Wolf said she had been working with architects to create designs for an environmentally sound building. Each bazaar is a microcosm of what the market would be, she said.
Bekezela Mguni, who was helping Ms. Wolf sell her wares yesterday, said she was particularly fond of Ms. Wolf's shea butter because she knew where it came from.
"I know all the hands involved," she said, recalling what she considered the inflated price of shea butter she found for sale in Shadyside.
"Everything is pure, organic, natural," said Tenanche Golden, who was selling botanical body products infused with rose oil and rose essence.
Ms. Golden added that she recently bought a home in the Hill District.
"I believe this is an up and coming part of town," she said.
First Published November 28, 2009 12:00 am