Food trucks, vendors, and shoppers enjoying the Akoma Outdoor Farmer's Market in East Oakland on November 1, 2020. Credit: Good Good Eatz (IG: @goodgoodeatz)

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This Sunday, The Black Cultural Zone, a nonprofit community development organization, will be hosting a holiday version of their monthly Akoma outdoor farmer’s market in deep East Oakland, in partnership with the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce. The BCZ launched the monthly markets in September to support local small farmers, food vendors, and other small businesses with an emphasis on promoting Black and brown entrepreneurship.

For December, BCZ organizers wanted to bring a holiday spirit to the market. 

“We’re trying to run with the whole holiday thing, fusing both Afro and traditional vibes,” says Aliyah Romero, coordinator of the Black Cultural Zone. “Going with Kwanzaa and Christmas and just trying to really make it a fun, festive atmosphere.”

The Black Cultural Zone, a coalition comprised of residents, local leaders, and organizations, was founded in 2019 to promote Black cultural traditions, the arts, and local businesses in East Oakland.

akoma outdoor farmer’s market

What: A special holiday-themed market featuring local farmers, food vendors, artists, and local retailers. The market will also feature vendors participating in the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce’s 3rd Annual Black Sunday Holiday Expo

Where: Liberation Park, 6955 Foothill Blvd. in East Oakland

When: This Sunday, December 6th, 2020

Time: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Vendors: To sign up for future Akoma markets, click here.

There are currently 39 local vendors signed up for the holiday market, a mix of artists, retailers, food vendors, and creatives including the Oakland-based and Black-owned farming company Raised Roots, the Sol Root Farmer’s Collective, and DeVaughn’s Cajun Kitchen. For many of the vendors, said Romero, the monthly Akoma markets provide a welcome opportunity to connect with customers in person during the pandemic.

“These are really troubling times and a lot of our vendors have voiced that they’re really thankful for this market because it gives them the space to not only expand their audience but also to kind of have a pop-up storefront,” said Romero. “So we’re really happy to do that.”

Liberation Park on 73rd Avenue and Foothill Boulevard in East Oakland. Credit: Darwin Bondgraham

None of the vendors are being charged for a table at the holiday market. Some, said Romero, had attempted to sell at larger markets only to be turned away because they lacked the needed licenses and paperwork to sell their goods. In addition to providing free space, she said, the BCZ is helping vendors navigate the process of obtaining things like business licenses, zoning permits, and liability insurance. 

“We’ve been kind of seen as a stepping stone,” said Romero. “Like, Akoma Market, they’re gonna help you out; they’re not going to just turn you away; they’re going to work with you. I think that’s why some of the vendors then told their friends, ‘Hey you know, go to Akoma. It’s got a great atmosphere, it’s got this kind of reunion feel. They’ll help you get on your feet.’”

The holiday-themed event will feature more vendors than Akoma’s typical weekly outdoor markets, due in part to a partnership with the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, which will be simultaneously hosting their third annual Black Sunday Holiday Expo at Liberation Park. “They’ve definitely added a few more vendors, which we’re thankful for,” said Romero. “We’re really just trying to give folks space to help their businesses grow.” 

The Akoma markets are being held at a once-vacant parcel of land adjacent to the Eastmont Mall in a corner lot on 73rd Avenue and Foothill Boulevard. The plot, now called “Liberation Park,” has been repurposed as a hub for community service activities like food distributions, outdoor health clinics, and other events meant to revitalize the area.

“We’re trying to uplift a community that has been ignored for years,” said Romero. “We took account of it, we saw it, and we’ve made it into a place that’s now hosting a holiday market—it’s like a complete 180.”

Coronavirus case rates are disproportionately high in East Oakland, and organizers of the holiday market are taking precautions to make sure that vendors and customers alike will be safe at the event, said Romero. That includes conducting temperature checks for every customer who enters the market, setting up handwashing stations onsite, providing hand sanitizer at every vendor booth, limiting the number of shoppers who can enter the market at one time to ensure safe distancing, and requiring that everyone at the event wear a mask at all times. 

“I’m definitely very cognizant of how disproportionately impacted our community has been because of COVID,” said Romero. “We’re really trying to have this space for folks to kind of get away, and just have a break from everything that’s been going on.”

Amir Aziz is a photographer and videographer from Oakland, California. Using photography as his primary medium, Amir documents life and times in his community and the rapid changes in his environment. He's covered music events and social justice movements in the U.S. and abroad for local and international publications. Before shelter-in-place, he traveled to over 10 countries producing multimedia projects juxtaposing the experiences of locals elsewhere to those in his hometown of Oakland. Amir hopes to continue to bridge the gap between African diaspora communities and oppressed groups in the world through multimedia storytelling.

Jacob Simas is Managing Editor of The Oaklandside. He joined us from Univision, where he led social-impact initiatives and established the Rise Up: Be Heard journalism training program for young people and community organizers in underserved areas of California. He was a senior editor and director of youth and community media at New America Media, where he led a community news network that amplified student and youth reporting in California news deserts. Simas has lived in Oakland for the past decade with his wife and two children, who attend Oakland public schools. He is an advisory board member for Youth Beat and a former volunteer host and producer with KPFA.