February is Black History Month, a month-long observance that celebrates Black achievement while reminding us that systemic racism persists. This year, the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) Multicultural Center (MCC) and the Office of Black Student Development (OBSD) honored artists and vendors from the community through their Black Flea Market. The flea market highlighted Black entrepreneurs in the community and provided a place for people to enjoy their work. While all the booths at this event were incredible, below highlights three local, Black entrepreneurs and their businesses.
After graduating from UCSB in 2020 with a zoology degree, Ashlee Priestley currently works at the OBSD as an academic achievement counselor for students majoring in STEM fields. Priestly also runs her own business called, Piece of Venus Adornments, a handcrafted jewelry and apparel shop. Priestley, who has always been crafty, began making and selling her own jewelry in 2020. Turning her passion into a product, Priestley is grateful for any opportunity to show people her work. When she found out about the Black Flea Market at UCSB, she quickly signed up.
Priestley believes that events like the Black Flea Market are important, as they provide a space for people to hang out, have fun, and see Black joy and creation. While Priestley does believe that progress has been made towards creating a more inclusive environment at UCSB since she started as a freshman, she is inspired to use both her business and her job at the OBSD to make even bigger changes.
“Being an alum, I’ve seen what systemic changes need to be made as a student and now I am in a position of authority to make them,” Priestly said. “Bringing the Black community back together in centralized pieces was pretty rough over the past couple of years. But this particular Black History Month, there’s a million different programs going on. It’s so beautiful to see, especially given the times that we’re coming out of. And it’s led by the Black community, which is very important for us to indicate what kind of celebrations are needed and wanted.”
Fourth-year Black studies major Demetria Jones celebrated the one-year anniversary of her business Queen D Beauty, an online beauty supply store. She cited the challenge of limited accessibility of getting beauty supplies for textured hair at Target and other stores in Goleta as inspiration for her entrepreneurship. The shop has hair care, durags and bonnets, eyelash products, and jewelry. With the goal of offering a quick and easy way for her own community to access these items, Queen D Beauty offers pickup and delivery throughout the Santa Barbara area. Additionally, the company ships across the nation. Most of Jones’s work is done through her website; however, she appreciates in-person events such as the Black Flea Market to show the UCSB community her and others’ products.
“[The Black Flea Market] is a great opportunity to just be heard and to just be seen and be known. It gave me the opportunity just to be in that space and take up all the space that I wanted to or needed to.” Jones said. “I am a small Black business owner, and I think it is important to highlight not only me, but all small Black entrepreneurs. There were so many artists in [the Black Flea Market] and it highlighted all the creativity, hard work and passion people put into this.”
While Jones is grateful that events like these bring recognition to the Black community at UCSB in general, she believes change will only be made if it extends past Black History Month.
“I believe awareness in general [at UCSB] can be worked on. I think minorities should just be included in everything and not just singled out just because it’s their month. People should be celebrated always,” Jones said.
Angela Cantu also graduated UCSB in 2020 with a Black studies degree and now works at the OBSD as a Business Officer and Business Operations Analyst. Cantu has a passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion in academia, and she values that her job focuses on Black students on campus. Cantu’s other interest is acrylic painting, specializing in abstract and anime pieces. Selling lots of her work through word of mouth, she also participates in events held by the Santa Barbara Black community, such as Juneteenth SB, markets run by Santa Barbara Black Young Professionals, and now The Black Flea Market. Cantu appreciates how these events combine her two passions.
“With everything that’s been done with anti-Blackness, events like [the Black Flea Market] are important for showing Black joy. You get to have fun and you get to show different sides of yourself at these events,” Cantu said. One of the reasons Cantu enjoys participating in events like these is that most of them extend past Black History Month. Cantu believes that during her time at UCSB, the general community recognition of Black History Month needs improvement, as most of the events are held by various Black student organizations. Similarly, she believes more events highlighting the Black community must happen throughout the year. However, Cantu’s time at UCSB gives her an advantage when it comes to creating change.
“When I was a student, the way the general campus celebrated Black History Month was subpar. I definitely got an email acknowledging that it was Black History Month, but I felt like I had definitely got[ten] more of that emphasis on Black History Month from the cultural centers. But then coming on as staff, I’m happy I went this route because I get a full insight into how it is at UCSB for the Black community,” Cantu said. “As a staff member, I see in the students’ eyes how much of a difference [the OBSD] has made for them. But [in terms of] the campus as a whole, I believe [UCSB] can do more.”