Africana Market & Food Truck Rodeo 

Black Communities: A Conference for Collaboration

Durham Convention Center Plaza at the Carolina Theatre

309 West Morgan Street, Durham | Sept. 9–11 

The Hayti in which Denise Hester grew up in the fifties was not the Hayti she returned to in 1989, after a twenty-year absence, to run her family’s dry-cleaning business. The vibrant mixed-income hub of black arts and commerce she knew was stagnant. 

The once-thriving Durham neighborhood was destabilized decades earlier by redlining, but it had been decimated by the city’s so-called urban renewal program in the late sixties. More than four thousand households and five hundred businesses were displaced to make way for the Durham Freeway. In the years that followed, as the rest of Durham grew and prospered, Hayti fell further behind. 

In 2000, Hester and her husband, Larry, developed the Phoenix Crossing Shopping Center. Since then, through the Great Recession and high unemployment, they’ve added fifty-five thousand square feet of commercial retail space to the Fayetteville Street corridor, part of an ongoing effort to restore Hayti’s entrepreneurial legacy. 

Next week, the Africana Market & Food Truck Rodeo, which Hester spearheads, will return to downtown Durham in conjunction with the second annual Black Communities Conference, an international summit for academics and black communities sponsored by UNC’s Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and the Institute of African American Research. 

“We bootstrapped this thing, and it’s just kind of gotten out of control, in a good way,” says Mark Little, executive director of the Kenan Institute. 

Following the success of last year’s conference and Africana Market, which drew about six hundred people, Little anticipates bringing more than eight hundred historians, elected officials, architects, artists, and representatives from nonprofits from around the world to Durham. 

The three-day conference features lectures from academics—many from Durham—on topics such as the intersection of technology and gender, poverty, and race, a short talk on community food access, and a workshop on obesity and diabetes epidemics in the South and Midwest. 

Little says the Africana Market is a way to make some components of the conference available to the general public. The market features artisanal crafts and other handmade goods such as traditional and contemporary African jewelry and clothes from Vitoria Global Fashion and Royal African Boutique, while the food truck rodeo, limited to ten trucks from around the state, features Lawrence & Perry BBQ, Selena Fried Chicken & Fish, and Bull City favorite Saltbox Seafood Joint, to name a few. 

Hester says the rodeo gives African American restaurateurs the opportunity to showcase their businesses in an all-black marketplace. 

Often, she says, these businesses are overlooked. Many of Durham’s restaurants are small—70 percent have fewer than ten employees, Hester says—mobile, or even web-based, making them hard to pin down. There are about thirty-five black-owned restaurants in Durham, fifty if you count food trucks, and that number is rising, she says.  

“That impetus to create and produce has always been in the black community, but most businesses need a place from which to operate,” Hester says. That idea drove her and her husband into commercial real estate in Hayti, she adds. 

Little agrees. A century ago, Durham’s robust black middle class—built first from the decent-paying jobs black workers could access in the tobacco industry and then the rise of Black Wall Street—was unique in the South. To offer attendees a window into that rich historical context, the Black Communities Conference will hold afternoon tours of Black Wall Street, Hayti, and the Pauli Murray Center

“There are a significant number of black-owned businesses in Durham today,” Little says, “and anyone interested in their survival can buy things from them.”

Contact food and digital editor Andrea Rice at 

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