Saving LA’s African Marketplace

los angeles african marketplaceSummer is a time to be outdoors and to experience the wonders of new things, including the diversity of others. Summer festivals bring education, socialization and family enjoyment. Even in momentary economic recessions, festivals bring a much needed relief where families can affordably entertain themselves.

Many cities are known for their culture fests. Los Angeles has several culture festivals of note, but none more significant than the African Marketplace. It’s a festival that has promoted African culture and African commerce to the city, the region and the world for the past 25 years. A festival that draws tens of thousands of people for four consecutive weekends to allow vendors to sell their wares, and its attendees to hear music, taste food, and buy clothing, jewelry, and artifacts from throughout the African Diaspora on the continent and in the Caribbean.

It brings millions of dollars into the local economy, raises taxes and fees for the city budget, and offers a diversion away from the violence, the unemployment, and the hardships Angelenos face today. Yet, the City of Los Angeles is in economic crisis. There have been budget cuts across the board and the elimination of many of the city’s non-essential services. It is understood that we all must tighten our belts. The African Marketplace has struggled the past few years, and has reduced the festival from four weekends to two. This year’s festival is scheduled for August 28 and 29 and September 4, 5 and 6. Now it has a huge barrier to overcome. The City of Los Angeles is trying to charge the festival over $180,000 to hold the African Marketplace for two weeks, in a public park. Now we know the City is having a hard time…but $180,000??? For what?

Taxpayer money is not just to run government. It is not just to pay for services, as crucial as services are. Some parts of the city budget do go for constituent enrichment. In this instance, monies for cultural affairs are considered “non-essential” to the operation of the city. Those services have been the first to go. The African Marketplace has found a way to exist with the reduction or elimination of city funds. All they need is the space. Space that wouldn’t be otherwise used to the extent it would be by the festival. Most of our public spaces throughout the City are underutilized. But when we finally do want to use the parks for something of cultural benefit, the city bureaucrats want to overcharge people. It doesn’t cost $180,000 for city Recreation and Parks personnel to staff the park for five days. It doesn’t cost $180,000 to put up section barriers.

What does it cost $180,000 to do? Fill some department’s budget shortfall? The politics of the “ask” for the African Marketplace stinks from the very notion that the City would try to profiteer on the backs of the people. For the people of the community to have to be denied the use of a public park because the city wants to overcharge festival organizers (who also work for the city) is bogus. It would be different if the festival was costing the city $180,000. If the money’s not there, the money’s not there. But if the money’s not there, the actual cost to the city is affordable for the festival, and the organizers come up with the money, it is not right, nor proper, for the city to then make the festival unfeasible. Its wants to charge so much that it makes the proposition unaffordable.

We shouldn’t let the City of Los Angeles kill the African African Marketplace. $20,000? $40,000? Maybe even $60,000 for two weekends. That could be seen as reasonable. $180,000? That’s not even reasonable, much less affordable. As a community, we can’t act like we don’t see what’s up here.

Contact the Mayor, members of the City Council and the City Comptroller (who wants to be the next Mayor). Tell them our community WANTS the African Marketplace this year and we want a significant fee reduction. Tell the Mayor to buy a ticket (since we can’t give him one – but since he’ll probably bring proclamations). We know they’re watching him on the free ticket thing. But he needs to understand what this means to our community.

He needs (and we need) to help save the African Marketplace in Los Angeles. This is a cultural festival that helps us understand what Africa and African tradition means to our community and helps others understand our traditions. If the African Marketplace didn’t raise the money to put on the festival, that’s one thing. To be gouged by the city is something altogether different. And we’re helping to expose it.

We cannot let the City be the one to kill our cultural festival. Not now, not ever.

Anthony Asadullah Samad

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Politics. He can be reached at

Republished with permission from The BlackCommentator.


  1. LJ says

    I guess I will be the first vendor to express the disappointment as how James Burke of the African Marketplace has ignored people from all over the world including myself regarding refunds. There are many reasons why the African Marketplace has suffered and could not continue. Sometimes things need to help, something comes anew and be revitalized because people want and need change. Of course thousands of people wanted the African Marketplace to come again, but there were many who did not and made sure they blocked it from happening. Many of these issues are personal. Although I tried to give James the benefit of doubt, I knew many people in our community had a bad taste in their mouth and didn’t want to do biz with him. James offers many excuses why the Marketplace could not take place at other venues – merely to ignore the fact that it wasnt about the money but that people no longer want to do biz with him. As a vendor, I am now faced with trying to get the money I paid and of course, James Burke isn’t responding. It’s very sad when people think they can take advantage of people and keep one’s money when it’s not theirs to keep. I am looking for other people who are also owed money as I am sure we will have to start litigation against James Burke. It was never my intention to give him $800.00 and not participate in the AMP, so he should never think he has a right to keep anyone’s money. I can be reached at Peace

  2. R. M. Eshaq says

    I was so dissappointed not to be able to attend the African Marketplace Cultural Fair this year. I looked it up, found this article in the process, got the address, went there and there was nothing there. Did it really dissappear? Me and my boyfriend went around and around, we felt so stupid, but could not find it. It was very confussing. We went to the address on Rodeo by Dorsey HS. We went to the address on Cadillac and Venice and we found Ladera Park but not Rancho Cienega Park.

    What happened? Did we just totally miss it. Did it not happen? Was it really destroyed due to the amount of $$ they charging?

    Much more and clear advertising is needed for next year. Hopefully, there will be another for this wonderful fair to take place.

    • says

      We wanted to go to the African Marketplace as well but couldn’t find the time. Anthony Samad urged people to contact the Mayor to implore him to keep the marketplace alive. Apparently, that did not happen. The LA Progressive did not follow-up to find out if the event was cancelled. We should have. Perhaps you can mount a campaign to bring the marketplace back. Thanks for reading and commenting on the LA Progressive. Please spread the work about this publication. It’s one of the few publications that carried this story as you saw when you did a Google search. We’d like to cover more but we need more readership. Spreading the word helps. Thank you, Dick and Sharon


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