GrindFest 2022 what to expect

GrindFest 2022

The free, four-day event celebrates the success of Asheville’s community of Black entrepreneurs.

GrindFest 2022 what to expectThis Memorial Day weekend, May 27-30, 2022, the Second Annual GrindFest will return to Asheville!

The festival, a block party-style event, will take place at 8 Rivers Arts Place in the River Arts District (formerly part of Southside) and the Jean Webb Riverside Park. Admission is free to all. While the goal of GrindFest is to highlight the progress made by people of color, today and throughout our history in WNC, the festival also looks forward to connecting folks from all the different segments of our community. Everyone—Black, White, Brown, Native Americans, immigrants, and all the communities that strive to thrive in western North Carolina—is encouraged to attend, learn, and enjoy the festivities.

Last year’s first GrindFest attracted approximately 4,000 attendees; organizers are aiming for 7,000 this year.

GRINDfest Events

In addition to traditional festival activities including live music, games, delicious food, plus clothing, jewelry, crafts, and skin care products from local vendors, there will be important educational, employment, and partnership opportunities. Some 45 vendors include Bud Popsicles Ice Cream, Broke Stove with soul food fusion, East African and Caribbean food, a poetry slam, yoga, a skate jam, a games tent, and other events especially for kids. Reflecting the creativity of the Asheville community, there will also be books on sale and book signings by local authors.

Black Entrepreneurship in Asheville

Asheville has a rich history of African American entrepreneurship, going back to Mrs. Tempe Avery. Mrs. Avery was born into slavery and became renowned for her skills at delivering babies for fellow enslaved people as well as slave-owners. In part due to gratitude and recognition of her stature in the community, a White former slave-holder, Senator Nicholas Woodfin, granted her an acre of land (at 34 Pearson Drive) after the Civil War.

Isaac Dickson, the educator and namesake of Isaac Dickson Elementary School, was one of the founders of the Young Men’s Institute, established in 1893 to provide a place for businesses, recreation, education, and community improvement during the days of segregation when the YMCA refused to admit Black members. E.W. Pearson, one of the founders and long-time leader of the Burton Street community in West Asheville, not only owned the all-Black Royal Giants baseball team, but also encouraged and enabled Black entrepreneurship and home-ownership.

J Hackett and Bruce Waller, the founders of Black Wall Street Asheville.  Photo: Renato Rotolo/Urban News
J Hackett and Bruce Waller, the founders of Black Wall Street Asheville. Photo: Renato Rotolo/Urban News

Black Wall Street Asheville

In the years since these early African American business leaders make their mark on the city and Buncombe County, more than 100 other owners of historic businesses have been catalogued. Keeping awareness of this history of entrepreneurship, while also encouraging new businesses in today’s Asheville, is one of the central goals of the organizers of the festival: J Hackett and Gene Ettison, owners of Grind Coffee Shop on Depot Street, and the business generator and hub, Black Wall Street Asheville—one of the sponsors of GrindFest.

Ettison is a chef and owner of the Ettison Group, a highly regarded leader in the Black business community. His expert culinary output is featured at Grind, along with the unique business ideas he shares with his partner. We interviewed Hackett about the origins of both the privately owned business, the business generator, and the public festival that has grown out of it.

Grind Coffee Shop …

“Chef Gene and I have known each other for a few years now, and we’ve worked on a few different projects. When I got a call from Gene about an available property on Depot Street, we agreed to meet and take a look at it,” says Hackett.

“One of the things we were well aware of was how big the coffee industry is in Asheville, with roasters and sellers and coffee shops in every part of town. Yet there was a complete lack of Black and Brown faces inside of the industry.

“So we decided that we would open a coffee shop. But we did not want it to be average; we weren’t trying to fit into the traditional coffee space. Instead, we wanted a coffee, co-working, and event space.”

…and Business Hub

Hackett continued, “We wanted a space where people that look like us could come and have the service needed to support their businesses, a place where we could help Black and Brown businesses grow. Often times the Black business owner doesn’t have a commercial address to use, or they don’t have access to a fax machine, or a space for meeting. So the gig economy forces them to operate only virtually—using their home address, trying to stitch the pieces together as best they can.

“Now, a local business owner who is a member is able to meet for coffee, bring up their laptops, and have a team meeting—all inside a plush, modern, sophisticated space in the heart of the River Arts District.

As a co-working space, the shop offers a corporate address to business owners for a corporate mailbox, a place to work and meet clients, and a space to network with other entrepreneurs. And, of course, enjoy Ettison’s offerings of Ashe-holes coffee, countless varieties of donuts and pastries, and ready-made sandwiches and hot press paninis.

Welcoming and Inclusive

As for GrindFest itself, Hackett emphasizes its inclusiveness, as well as its historic import.

“We want people to feel included, to know that this is a festival that’s for everybody. Though all the performers and vendors are Black folk, and this is a festival that celebrates Black entrepreneurship, it’s not exclusively for Black people.”

And, because most of Southside was wiped out by Urban Renewal in the 1970s, the community lost its cohesiveness as well as many of the scores of Black-owned business in the area. Now the section has been reborn, renamed the “River Arts District,” and reinvested in by the City—it is attracting artists, realtors, and investors, many of them White. But its history as an essential part of the Black community must be reclaimed and remembered. And Hackett and his fellow organizers do.

“It’s also very important to name that GrindFest is happening in Southside’s historic Depot area!” he says emphatically.

Festival Highlights

GrindFest 2022 takes place  Friday, May 27 through Monday, May 30 at 8 River Arts Way and Jean Webb Park.

Friday, May 27 – begins at 11 a.m.

  • 12 noon Ribbon cutting and kick off with Brian Hamilton
  • 7 p.m. Friday night poetry slam

Saturday, May 28 – begins at 10 a.m.

  • 11 a.m. Storytime with the Elders
  • 2 p.m. “Urban Renewal”
  • 3 p.m. Southside
  • 4 p.m. Stephens Lee

Sunday, May 29 – begins at 9 a.m.

  • 9 a.m. Yoga
  • 2 p.m. Skate Jam

Monday, May 30 – begins at 10 a.m.

  • 12 noon Recognizing Black veterans
  • Food competitions: 1 p.m. Wings;
  • 3 p.m. Barbecue; 5 p.m. Chili

For more details, visit grindfestavl.com, or call (828) 785-0233.

 

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