Lucas Zheng | Senior Staff Photographer
The scent of freshly-baked funnel cake wafted through the air as soul music played throughout downtown’s Market Square. Multiple food trucks, such as Kalvin’s Kitchen Depot and Sherry’s Family Market, occupied one side of the festival. Vendors offered plates of southern cuisine such as lamb chops, baked mac and cheese and authentic jerk chicken.
More than 50 Black-owned small businesses selling food, clothing and beauty products lined the street this past weekend to kick into gear A Soulful Taste of the Burgh, an annual soul food and music festival meant to spotlight local Black business owners. The festival also featured local Black artists such as ROYCE and Pittsburgh Jazz All-Stars
Marshall is the founder of the festival and CEO of Stop the Violence, a movement created in 2013 to help support and refine the lives of Black people in Pittsburgh. Marshall said the objective behind the festival is to highlight Black-owned local businesses and their history.
“We established this festival in 2019 in honor of previous food business pioneers who operated companies in downtown Pittsburgh and Market Square,” Marshall said. “By 1788, Benjamin Richards operated and owned the first Black butchery business on 3rd Ave and became the richest man, not just Black man, in Allegheny County. We use this event to highlight Pittsburgh’s rich Black history, educate the community, and fellowship with the community.”
Marshall added that the festival gives local entrepreneurs and business owners good exposure and creates a positive economic impact on the Black community.
“With the soul food festival, we are able to educate the community about Pittsburgh’s Black history, but also create an economic impact,” Marshall said. “It allows small business owners and vendors to make thousands of dollars over the weekend and then circulate those funds back into the community.”
Most of the small businesses at the festival catered their products toward the Black community, whether it be generational food, skincare or artwork.
Margo Marshall, the founder of Early Mae’s Bakery, said her food represents Black culture because it reminds her of her childhood.
“It represents Black culture because this is the food we grew up on,” Marshall said. “I got sweet potato pie. I got pecan pie … Now, I grew up in the church and we had this all the time and I feel like baking is a lost art, so this is a way for me to continue our culture and continue our family recipes and continue our church history.”
Chante Howard, founder of Body Butter by Beauty, said her products are for everyone, but they are especially beneficial for Black skin.
“I try to gear some of my collections more towards black skin and keeping it all natural,” Howard said. “It’s turned into a collection now for people with eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, hyperpigmentation and things like that.”
Howard said the representation of Black culture in Pittsburgh needs to start with the Black community itself.
“If we don’t stand together, how can we expect others to do it?” Howard said. “So I feel like we should be supportive of each other first. I think if we could start being more supportive of each other and showing that we stand together, that we can tolerate each other and won’t tolerate the rest … I think it starts in the Black community and culture itself.”
Marlon Gist, founder of Marlon Gist Art Studio and Gallery based in Aliquippa, showcased his vibrant artwork at the festival and said he started his business to spotlight Black artists.
“To put more Black art out here,” Gist said. “That’s my goal right there. I don’t think there’s enough Black art or Black representation around here, so that’s what I’m here for.”
Meanwhile, attendees saw and experienced the different aspects of Black culture. Willow Freeman, a Pitt sophomore environmental studies and economics major, said the festival was eye-opening and that it was fun to see all the different parts of Black culture in Pittsburgh.
“I thought the festival was really fun and community-oriented,” Freeman said. “As a non-Black person, I don’t really experience and see Black culture in my everyday life. It was just nice to talk to the business owners and understand why they do what they do and how it represents them and their lives. I mean, you could just see the excitement and passion on their faces.”
Besides A Soulful Taste of the Burgh, Stop the Violence also sponsors and organizes other events meant to support and recognize the Black community in Pittsburgh, according to Marshall.
“Our next event is our African history lecture series at Carlow University with renowned educators and scholars,” Marshall said. “We also have our annual high school student Black History Month summit and essay contest at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall.”