Handcrafted cigars, vodka from a female-owned Suffolk distillery and a variety of local hot sauces were among the goods showcased at Saturday’s Ujamaa Fest in Wyandanch.
The Ujamaa, or “cooperative economics,” festival at Delano Stewart Plaza featured over 100 vendors, many of whom were Black-owned businesses from the tristate area.
There were entrepreneurs from all walks of life, some just starting out and more established ones as well. For participants and attendees, it was about supporting local Black-owned businesses.
Retired MTA structural engineer Vanessa Braxton jump-started Black Momma Vodka in 2012 and has become known as the first female African American master distiller. She makes the vodka at her own distillery in Wyandanch and ships nationwide and all over the world.
“For me, it’s more about keeping manufacturing in Long Island and hiring people from the community. I use New York State raw ingredients from farmers,” Braxton said. “This is about togetherness.” Her bottles were selling for $35.
Kelvin Lastique of Baldwin Harbor showcased his cigars, made from aged tobacco leaves from the Dominican Republic, under a fancy black tent. Lastique started Status Cigar, with his nephew in the throes of the pandemic after losing two close relatives, his mother to the coronavirus and his sister-in law, whose death was unrelated to the virus.
The cigars were selling for $20 each but normally retail for $35.
“Men should ... look good, dress good and act good. Cigars are very classy,” said Lastique, a real estate agent. “We are a Black-owned cigar company and there are not many out there. We are happy to support this community in Wyandanch and giving it a good word.”
Long Island Rail Road worker Larry Ford from Freeport, co-owner of Total Hot Sauce, said he decided he was ready to go prime-time with his fiery sauces, which come in eight flavors, when his co-workers who first tried them gave him the thumbs-up.
“Hot sauce is hot sauce, every nationality has different types of sauces. …This is a Long Island hot sauce,” Ford said, adding that Saturday's event was "special" for promoting a sense of camaraderie.
For Bay Shore artist Shavon Wilkins, who was showcasing a variety of artwork, including elaborate mixed-media paintings, the event also made her feel accepted.
“When you’re painting and alone in a room with you’re head down, you forget what you’re actually doing. People are looking at it, they appreciate it and it makes you feel welcome,” Wilkins said.
Noelyn Rodney of Ridge, owner of Rodney’s Rum Punch, was busy handing out samples of her mixed drink all day long. She first opened the business in 2018 but noted that Saturday wasn’t just about herself.
“Not only do I get to show my passion and talent for my products, I get to see others and their passion and talents and be able to shop within the African American community right here on Long Island,” Rodney said.
The Ujamaa festival is hosted by the nonprofit Black Long Island, which seeks to empower the Black community. Falischa Moss, the group's president, said there were more vendors this year as well as food trucks.
“It’s a beautiful day, the weather is right and people are having a good time," she said.