By Kelcey Norris
The Youngstown community shopped, sang and celebrated African American culture at the African Marketplace, a kickoff event hosted by Youngstown State University for Black History Month.
Patrick Spearman, director of the Africana Studies program at YSU, serves on the Black History Month planning committee for the African Marketplace.
“We bring vendors from around the region as well as entertainment from Youngstown to bring you a taste of Africa here at the university,” Spearman said. “We also share with the public what kind of events we have going for the rest of the month.”
According to Spearman, the marketplace is composed of African American businesspeople who give the patrons a taste of what the marketplaces are like in Africa.
“It’s about bringing everyone together and sharing with them the uniqueness, the ideas and the very importance of African American history and culture,” he said.
An African youth dance group, Harambee, performed traditional African dances accompanied by a chorus of drums.
While the event served as a celebration of African American culture, it also gave the community a better understanding of the culture.
“We’re really trying to encourage people to come here and learn more about a culture they might not be very familiar with,” Spearman said. “It raises awareness for cultural artifacts and ideas that some may not be aware of.”
Spearman said the African Marketplace began again after a year off, and members who planned the event were excited to bring it back.
“It’s good because what I found out from planning this is that it’s something the community really enjoys,” he said. “They really want the marketplace to keep going. We want it to grow and have more vendors and more people participating.”
Kira Walker, a sophomore telecommunication studies major, was one of the YSU students in attendance.
“I went to the African Marketplace because I missed the last one and I really wanted to go,” Walker said. “I think it’s really cool to see people from different backgrounds and cultures interacting in this community.”
Walker’s most memorable takeaways from the event was the dance group that performed and the variety of unique items for sale.
“It’s good to get out of your bubble sometimes,” she said. “It’s also beneficial to experience this stuff you wouldn’t find around your hometown to get a different perspective on the world.”
Cryshanna Leftwich Jackson, associate professor of politics and international relations and director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, also serves on the Black History Month planning committee, which was formed in 2017.
“We live in a time where we are more diverse and people are more open,” she said. “It’s important to have events that will include everybody but also celebrate the contributions of African Americans.”
The African Marketplace is only one of the many events the committee organized for the month.
Jackson Leftwich said the YSU Black Student Union wanted to discuss mental health stereotypes in the black community.
“There’s been an increase in suicides in African American teens,” she said. “We’re bringing in a speaker, Eric L. King Sr., who will be discussing issues and myths about black mental health and mental health awareness.”
Throughout February, the committee is using social media and signs to encourage YSU students to attend the events.
“We’re starting to have a more centralized planning program,” Jackson Leftwich said. “Before, it was like we didn’t know who was doing what. … We have our first points of contact to see about what’s being done, and we can work together.”
Visit ysu.edu/news for a complete list of Black History Month events.