A few weeks ago, I went to a networking event to support a friend of mine. These events aren't a cup of tea for introverts like me. Yes, I'm an introvert. Luckily, a few familiar faces from my last job were there to put my mind at ease. After a few drinks, the stuffiness had worn off and I was more willing to gab with patrons.
My friend who hosted the event is the type of person who doesn't meet a stranger. It was only a matter of time before he was making introductions on my behalf. I'm thankful that he did, because he ended up introducing me to a sweet woman who told me all about an event that happens at least once a month in Charlotte, Durham and Atlanta called AfroPop!
What is AfroPop! Nation? It's an event "that celebrates the rich heritage of various African diaspora nationalities through music, live drums, dance, vendors, fashion and art." Why in the world hadn't I heard about this event before?! Especially when then-editor Mark Kemp had just written an article in March about the inspiration behind the event. *cue self-judgment*
Yes, there's plenty I could do to stay #woke and aware of who's "doing it for the culture in Charlotte," but then I also thought about how easy it is to access information about events in the city that aren't put on by those classified as "other."
For example, Durag Fest, which was an alternative Juneteenth celebration held at Camp North End, was a perfect catalyst to discussions about "who's supported in the Charlotte community." The durag was used as the centerpiece of the celebration, and if you know anything about the history of durags you know that it is entangled in conversations about blackness, culture and fashion. Quite the statement event, however, it was only after the event was fairly invisible in the Charlotte community and then went viral in the aftermath that I began to question how much support do "other" communities have in the Q.C.
"I don't feel that minorities have equal access. You can see distinct pockets in the city where certain cultures go to a party. Getting access to venues is a tough thing in Charlotte," says Eric Ndelo, one of three innovators behind AfroPop!, on minority access to resources in Charlotte. "Either you don't have the right vibe (look) for the club or you don't have enough money. Ownership is the key ... We need our own and to put other people on. Things are changing though and more minority owners are popping up everywhere."
That being said, I felt privileged when my new connection gave me her number and invited me to attend AfroPop!'s two-year anniversary event at The Underground at AvidXchange Music Factory. I read up on the event on their website and Facebook page and was reminded of my first Su Casa visit and the article that followed in which I described the event as a "monthly oasis for the culturally starved."
I was grateful that by the time I arrived, the crowd had thinned out. As I said earlier, I can get a bit overwhelmed when I'm in larger crowds. I bounced around with a friend who works at The Underground and visited a few of the booths placed around the dancefloor. I'd promised myself I wasn't going to buy anything, but $60 later, I was the proud owner of a handmade copper ring and a South African beaded necklace. I celebrated by doing some version of a reggae dance before heading outside where I'd later chat with my invitee and Ndelo, her brother. I wasn't in the best state to ask questions so I asked for his card so we could connect later.
When I asked him to reflect on his first AfroPop! event and how far the events have come, he said: "The two-year anniversary was special to me because that's two trips around the sun and AfroPop! is still just picking up steam. It's a beautiful feeling knowing and not knowing the potential growth that the future holds ... The vibe was electric. With the horns, AfroPop! dancers, two-DJ set, light show and concert-style venue, it felt more like a show or concert party than just a cultural dance party. It showed that we stepped up our showmanship and are offering a tailored experience ... We set out to intertwine the fashion, dance, knowledge, colors, music, food and celebratory aspects of various pan-African cultures to create one big gumbo called AfroPop!"
And let me tell you, that gumbo is definitely worth tasting. What are your thoughts on the state of cultural diversity or lack thereof in Charlotte nightlife?