District native Mary Blackford is set to premiere the Market 7 Flea Market on July 30 in the parking lot of 3701 Benning Road, NE. Market 7 Flea is a grassroots initiative structured to provide food and retail options that are currently unavailable in Ward 7. The launch will include various other Black food and retail businesses in the District.

Mary Blackford started a flea market in Ward 7 in an effort to get residents to eat healthier. (Courtesy photo)

“I’m blessed enough to have a job that pays enough for me to kind of go around the city and live in multiple areas of the city. A lot of people don’t. So, they’re subject to the retail options over there and I don’t think that’s right. And so, the only way to fix it is to essentially gentrify and move them out. But I’m like, well then there goes my community. So, I’m like there has to be a medium here. There has to be a way to keep people in their homes and keep the culture here and then also have sustainable places for us to eat, shop, and grow,” Blackford told the AFRO.

Eager to preserve the people and culture of Ward 7, Blackford looked for Black businesses interested in bringing their talents and services in closer proximity to East of the River residents. The concept of Market 7 was inspired not only by the desolate needs of Ward 7 residents, but also by a trip Blackford took to Ghana in 2011.

Blackford attended the Business and Finance Academy at HD Woodson Senior High School in Northeast D.C. While studying at Babson College in Massachusetts, Blackford and fellow students had the opportunity to teach an entrepreneurship course in Takoradi, a small fishing district of Ghana. It was during this visit that Blackford witnessed community members operating their own centralized market, serving as the hub of their community. Blackford said she was determined to duplicate this efficient model to her own Black community in Ward 7.

“Ghana is like little hustle nation. People don’t get jobs, they start businesses. And so, what is so cool about the community is that they have a centralized market place. Although the community wasn’t rich it had its total autonomy and it owned everything around it because they provided everything they need themselves, so all-natural resources, all food, their clothing, all products you need you could get from this centralized market,” Blackford said.

Once Blackford returned from her travels and moved back home to Ward 7, she discovered exactly how disparaged her community was after comparing it to what she had learned. As a vegetarian, she faced difficulty finding healthy food options close to her home. These conditions, which do not support healthy living, motivated her to attend Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings to speak on the lack of food and retail in her home community.

“People want to see a thriving city, but often-times the cost of that is a high one. It’s not cheap to change a city over or neighborhood over. And so, what people generally do when they want to change over a community is that you know, you raise property values, you build nice, fancy condos, and that attracts retail and that attracts a certain level of investments. And then you see kind of the community change over and that’s what we’ve been seeing all around the city. What is so dissatisfying about that is you see the native culture go out,” Blackford said.

Market 7 Flea will be showcasing a variety of local businesses such as local Black Farmers, providing fresh food for residents to purchase, as well as clothing, jewelry, art, skin care, and more. As of July 18, market vendors include: G Styles (African clothing), Earl’s Closet (vintage clothing), Bailiwick Clothing (clothing), Shea Yeleen (beauty and skin care), BINC Hair (hair care), Chloe (book seller), Nail Glam by Jove Co. (beauty/nail care), Jude’s Farm Stand (UDC- farmer), Mr. Carltion’s Ice Cream (food), Brown Girl Prints (art), Carrots DC (art/photography).