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Friday, January 27, 2023

Swarthy empowers local Black-owned businesses in its second festival

More than 40 vendors participated this year

<p>A resident draws chalk with a child in front of vendor tables and tents at the Revolution Before Evolution Festival Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.</p>

A resident draws chalk with a child in front of vendor tables and tents at the Revolution Before Evolution Festival Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.

Children joyfully played hopscotch in front of local Haitian food truck Tropical Eatz, the aroma of which dominated Northeast 14th Street, Sunday. As patrons strolled down the street, the scent of soy candles crafted in a local business owner's kitchen greeted them.

Local businesses and organizations set up tents and tables along the street outside Citizens Field in the second Revolution Before Evolution Festival, an event Swarthy East GNV hosted to promote local businesses and farms. The organization as a whole aims to provide a space for Black-owned businesses and nonprofit organizations in the local economy. 

Swarthy owner Hatrdika Monroe started organizing the festival in April but said she experienced neglect and didn’t receive a partnership approval until August, three months before the event.

“The whole intent is to engage the community of East Gainesville, because we have so many disparities,” she said.

Since last year, the festival has grown to include about 45 vendors, consisting of food trucks, live music and community resources, Monroe said.

A 2021 city report based on USDA data identified 11 food deserts — low-income areas where a substantial number of residents have low access to grocery stores — in Gainesville.

Though Swarthy started as a haircare service during the pandemic, it grew into a community effort to offer an onsite grocery and retail space for residents to combat food insecurity on the east side, the 28-year-old said.

Monroe hoped to house Swarthy on Northeast Eighth Avenue — a historically prime location for the Black community in East Gainesville — but plans fell through after the city bought a property she said she proposed for the store.

While she purchased property in Hawthorne for a potential community garden, she’s still working to secure a permanent location for the grocery and retail store to offer a place for local businesses to sell products and to distribute resources available on the east side.

“Until then, our festival is our means of demonstrating our community, what we'll be offering,” she said.

Desiree Hayes and her daughter, who are East Gainesville residents, started Ebunny Creations, a candle company out of their kitchen in 2019.

Swarthy’s annual festival offers an opportunity to showcase other local Black-owned businesses that operate on the east side of town, Hayes said, where there’s been an ongoing lack of resources.

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The divide is evident once you drive from West Gainesville to East Gainesville, the 50-year-old said.

“There’s a clear divide once you get to downtown in what's available in terms of resources, even in terms of food, in terms of health care, in terms of entertainment.”

Even with the increase in housing, she said it’s not enough compared to the west side of town, even though there’s ample land to develop. 

Fareed Johnson, a Gainesville resident who grew up in East Gainesville, said he attended the festival to show support for local small Black-owned vendors.

“It’s a powerful message,” he said. “It’s empowering East Gainesville, bringing businesses entrepreneurship, as well as education and community engagement to East Gainesville.”

The 30-year-old serves on the city’s police advisory council and said community involvement reduces crime and stimulates business growth.

“Unfortunately, there's different factors in East Gainesville that kind of drive business down,” Johnson said. “Whenever local businesses look and they see the crime rate — that turns them away.”

Events like the Sunday festival keep residents occupied and connected, he said.

With the event growing in attendance and vendor interest every year, Johnson hopes similar events and opportunities will increasingly empower the east side — something Monroe is eager to offer.

She’s already planning the next festival and anticipates more success.

“We're not going to be intimidated,” she said. “We're not going to be discarded.”

Contact Mickenzie Hannon at mhannon@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @MickenzieHannon.

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Mickenzie Hannon

Mickenzie is the local elections reporter and previously covered city and county commission for The Alligator’s Metro Desk. She's a fourth-year journalism major and is specializing in data journalism. When Mickenzie isn’t writing, she enjoys watching horror movies, reading, playing with her pets and attending concerts.


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