It’s no surprise that the two women behind the For Us By Us (F.U.B.U.) Market shared a common goal of combating Black health stereotypes, since they met while working at a gym. As their friendship progressed, Jailaih Gowdy and Alexis Smith learned they both were passionate about improving the quality of life—both physically (Gowdy is a certified personal trainer) and financially (Smith directs a community-based nonprofit and has business development experience)—for people who looked like them. In September 2020, they started the monthly farmers market, which provides economic opportunities to Black farmers and businesses in addition to wellness and nutrition-based education for community members. The markets feature musical performances, provide space for community organizations to directly engage with attendees, and invite political candidates to interact with their potential constituents (Gary Chambers, Karen Carter Peterson, Hattiesburg mayoral hopeful Lakeylah White, and District Attorney Jason Williams have all attended and spoken at previous F.U.B.U. Market events). The market is steeped in Black traditions of sustainability, ownership, and self-determination (think Tulsa’s Black Wall Street, the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Eatonville, Florida, etc.) with the reaffirming mantra—and tees to match—“Shop Local, Support Black,” but also welcomes all under the common objective of health.
Following a summer of global uprisings in response to a murderous succession of Black people at the hands of police and daily COVID-19 cases that on average “surged and peaked at 67,000 by July 2020,” (CNBC) the event curators brainstormed ways they could pour into their community. During this tumultuous period marked by a pronounced loss of life, Smith thought New Orleans was “missing love, avenues of growth, and a place to define ourselves for ourselves.” Gowdy got involved by developing the idea of a grocery store, “where Black people can come and comfortably shop for items that they feel comfortable putting into their body.”
To date, the duo have curated markets in New Orleans as well as Baton Rouge and Hattiesburg (Gowdy is an Ocean Springs native) with their collective vision set on future expansion throughout the Gulf South and across the U.S. With their one year celebration event tentatively scheduled for October 30th1updated from the print edition, the duo also looks to produce scholarships for participating farmers and create subscription boxes.
Please give a brief overview of the F.U.B.U. Market for someone who has never been.
Alexis Smith: The For Us By Us Market is not like any regular farmers market. This market has soul and heart. This market is for the community. This is a hood love story for all people.
Jailaih Gowdy: They can experience a vibe that is unmatched. You can’t get this anywhere else because it’s filled with like-minded people who are passionate about health and wellness in all facets. We also like to incorporate vendors who sell products that deal with mental health. We like to partner with community resources. So, just making sure that we’re providing our people with this much access to these vendors, to these farmers, to these community resources, as much as possible is one of, I think, the biggest attractors to the market. Then we allow for artists as well to come out and perform just to kind of shed light on the New Orleans culture, which is so big in music to begin with.
What came to mind in the creation of the name for the event?
JG: The name creation was something that was done in a very last minute meeting that me and Alexis had when we first met about the market. We were just shooting hella names off of each other, but we kind of concluded that we wanted to use “For Us By Us” because this is an event that is for us, Black people and is by us, Black people. We just wanted to have a name that can resonate really well with people of all walks of life, but still kind of remind that we are definitely doing this for the Black community and for people that look like us.
The F.U.B.U. Market started back in September 2020. What was your logistical approach to emphasize the safety and health of your vendors, your attendees in an indoor space, and yourselves shortly after the summer surge of COVID-19 cases?
AS: Because healthy lifestyle choices are such an integral part of the market, we put every precaution in place to make sure everyone is safe. Masks are required, contact tracing is in place, temperature checks are done, sanitation stations are throughout the market. We enforce social distancing, and have a RSVP/ticketed system in place to enter the market.
When I think of the F.U.B.U. Market, I see self-determination and am reminded of historically Black and self-sufficient communities. Despite gentrification and displacement, New Orleans is still a Black city. How do you feel the F.U.B.U. Market adds to the legacy of Black excellence in the city?
AS: That is the exact historical influence of the F.U.B.U. Market. My personal belief, since I obviously was not around at the time, but I feel we were better off before Jim Crow. We had thriving communities and cities, established businesses, and a strong family dynamic in place. Now we are fighting to gain back those accomplishments. Jim Crow did more than just dismantle our communities. It put a system in place that would cripple every Black community until this day. But as a whole we are all still dealing [with] some effect of Jim Crow, whether it’s the prison system, the school system, lack of resources, colorism, mental health, drugs, rape—we are still trying to establish ourselves as a whole in this country. And this is our way of doing so that helps not just one Black business or community, but Black people everywhere.
In doing this event, what have you learned about yourself, the community that you’ve built within New Orleans, and the one that you have in the Gulf Coast region?
JG: In starting the For Us By Us Market, it’s just shown me how passionate I am about trying to educate as many people as possible that look like me. If you have this going on with your body, you don’t have to really solely depend just on Western medicine to fix it. I’m super big on options and people having as many options as possible, especially our people. That was the biggest thing that I’ve learned about myself is that I’m super passionate about educating people on things like that. But seeing kids, like babies that will come out and participate, seeing them just be so excited [has] fuelled the passion in me, where I’ve got to keep this going just so people can experience stuff like this, because I didn’t get to when I was a kid. Growing up in Mississippi, I had nothing but Dollar Generals, gas stations, and a Walmart.
Photos by Sherman Williams; left to right: Alexis Smith, Jailaih Gowdy
The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO) is a broad-based coalition and registered 501c3 non-profit corporation that collaborates with, organizes, and empowers the New Orleans music and cultural community to preserve and nurture the city’s culture, to translate community vision into policy change, and to create positive economic impact.
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