Black Wall Street gives vendors like Maureen Burks a place to showcase their art, services and products. (Provided)

A weekly pop-up market is creating economic opportunities for Black entrepreneurs, artists and business owners on the West Side.

The market, Black Wall Street, borrows the name from the district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was a historic epicenter of Black commerce in the early 20th century. Black Wall Street one of the wealthiest Black communities in the country until it was burned to the ground in the Tulsa Race Massacre by white mobs in 1921.

The Black Wall Street market, held 12-6 p.m. Saturdays at 3708 W. Roosevelt Rd., seeks to replicate the prosperity of its namesake from over 100 years ago, said founder Lavern Herron.

“When they started, they probably had just one store. … But starting small, if we have our minds focused on the same thing, we can make this much bigger,” Herron said. “This is really about creating a wave of economics and entrepreneurship in the community.”

The market brings together around 30 vendors each week to set up tables and sell their art, jewelry, clothes, ceramics, hair products, cosmetics, skincare, health foods and other goods. Heron organizes games, raffles and performances at the market “so both the visitors and the vendors can have entertainment,” she said.

The market takes place under a tent at a vacant lot Herron purchased to try to make the unused land useful to the community again, she said.

“I thought it would be a good idea to make use of this vacant lot,” she said. “Use what you’ve got. Yeah it’s raggedy, yeah it’s a lot of trash over here. But with your own hands you can clean it up and build it into something way bigger than what we’ve been seeing.”

Some of the vendors at the market have included Pivot Styles, a plus-size women’s clothing boutique; Earthly Essentials, a natural hair care company; Mona Lisa Pineapple, a ceramics business; and ChiCity Alkalinity, an herbal health company. Vendors interested in joining the market can call or text Herron at (708) 505-2045 to set up a table.

Maureen Burks, 80, started her business, Mo’s Art, in the past couple months after surviving coronavirus. As her business finds its footing, she is glad to have a place to showcase her work on the West Side where she’s spent most of her life, she said.

Burks has had a passion for art since she won a scholarship to take classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago when she was in 7th grade, she said. She does portraits and paintings of Black people as a way to stay busy in her retirement, she said.

“I’m an 80-year-old great grandma, so I have a lot of time on my hands. So now I do a lot of painting. I enjoy it, and it keeps me busy. As the young folks say, it keeps me out of trouble,” she said.

Most of the pop-ups and markets she participates in take place outside the West Side or out in the suburbs, Burks said. Having a local market gives entrepreneurs, artists and businesses an opportunity to meet each other and show the community the great things being produced locally, she said.

“It keeps the people informed of what they can get in the neighborhood. It’s a great idea that we have something like that in our area,” Burks said. “You get a chance to meet a lot of different people and they have a variety of things they sell. It’s interesting to see what people can do with their hands.”

Quianda James, often known as Kiki the Jeweler, has been a vendor several times at Black Wall Street. Her business, Gaia Designs by Q, is focused on holistic healing and traditional medicine. Her business grew out of her own efforts to “manage my own anxiety” without relying on pharmaceuticals, she said.

“I was really looking into natural ways of healing and trying to find ways of adjusting without using medications,” she said. “It’s our way of life. The business is secondary.”

Her company offers crystals, jewelry, herbs and essential oils that can be used for pain, anxiety and other ailments. She participates in a lot of pop-ups and vendor fairs, but there were previously few opportunities to expand her business to the West Side where she grew up, James said.

“It’s been really good to do something on the West Side. A lot of what I’ve been doing has been on the South Side because a lot of the vending events I participate in are on the South,” she said.

James is currently based on the South Side, but she hails from the K-Town neighborhood of North Lawndale. She wholeheartedly believes in the vision of Black Wall Street, and the market gives her hope that the West Side can once again have a thriving local economy.

“I know this will be something for the history books. It’s been a big step,” she said. “I’m just proud.. I was able to participate.”

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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