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'Unapologetic Blackness': The celebration of 'Blacktoberfest' in Indianapolis

Posted at 11:42 AM, Oct 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 14:00:02-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Dominic Dorsey says he first thought about 'Blacktoberfest' years ago at an event that was similar, yet at the same time very different.

"I actually used to work at St. Joan of Arc, and they used to put on a French market every year," Dorsey said. "I never got to attend, but I would see the pictures, and the kids would come in and they would be excited about it — the culture, the food."

The man who started the community-focused group Don't Sleep says he never thought of the St. Joan of Arc event as not being inclusive. But he wished that something like it were around centered around Black culture.

"In Indianapolis, we've had these bookend events. We always talk about Indiana Black Expo," Dorsey said. "We always talk about Circle City Classic, but really having something else we can look forward to."

That "something else" is finally happening this weekend, as Black-owned businesses will showcase their products and services, and several of Indy's best-known local entertainers will take the stage.

Dorsey and Don't Sleep have held several smaller "Black-Owned Business Block Parties" before. But when word got out that a bigger event was coming, he was overwhelmed to find that everyone seemingly wanted to be part of it.

"We opened up registrations in August, and they were filled by the second week," Dorsey said. "(We have) over 103 vendors, 16 food vendors, art vendors, youth services, home care services, we've got a masseuse who's going to be out there."

Supporting those businesses, Dorsey says, means putting your money directly back into your own community, too.

"Many (minority-owned businesses) don't have brick-and-mortar establishments," Dorsey said. "Some of them are selling on Etsy or out of the trunks of their car. But an event like this is extremely beneficial, because it's not paying for them to have a private island or a jet like some owners of big box stores would do. This is paying their rent, this is paying for their kids' tuition. This is their livelihood."

The buzz around Blacktoberfest grew so quickly, it drew in big-name sponsors like Indiana Black Expo and Black Onyx Management.

That type of sponsorship is allowing organizers to make this a free event for the public to attend, even with well known local singers like Allison Victoria, Okara Imani and Terrance Anderson scheduled to take the stage.

Renee King will also perform, as will Soulful Muzik - he'll be delivering a tribute to Luther Vandross. Award-winning DJ Mary Jane will also be there, with Eric D. Saunders as emcee.

Dorsey hopes the whole city will come out, but make no mistake, Blacktoberfest is, as he likes to say, unapologetically Black.

"In so many spaces, there's this policing of what it means to be Black," he said. "There's always been these conversations about toning down what it means to be Black. Or being in spaces where what's considered to be Black culture is gauche until it's assimilated or co-opted by someone else. For me, unapologetic Blackness is whatever it means for me to be Black. I'm not going to censor it for mixed company."

He says that doesn't mean there's one way to be Black.

"But I'm not going to change or edit myself to be more palatable for others in my Blackness," Dorsey said. "So this (Blacktoberfest) is one of those that's specifically designed for that. Everybody is invited as long as you feel comfortable being in that type of environment, we want you to come and enjoy it with us."

Blacktoberfest will take place 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Saturday at 1544 Columbia Ave. That's across from The Oaks Academy Middle School on 16th Street, about two blocks east of the Frank and Judy O'Bannon Soccer Park. Admission is free. Information is at IndyBlacktoberfest.com.