Take a single step into the Flamingo Restaurant and you almost forget you have entered a restaurant—especially one that’s tucked away behind a Subway. With walls doused by the paintings of Little Africa artist Sara Endelew and window sills flecked with earthy East African cultural artifacts, from the inside Flamingo looks more like some soulful art gallery than a restaurant. It’s no surprise then that the restaurant served as the perfect location for Little Africa’s African Women Entrepreneurs & Artist Networking event.
Held on March 8th from 6 to 8pm, the African Women Entrepreneurs & Artist Networking event was the second in a series of Little Africa arts events organized by African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS). The series is the brain child of AEDS Arts Organizer Lula Saleh who also emceed and facilitated the event’s activities
“We had several activities packed into two hours, such as storytelling circles, a larger group conversation about the arts, entrepreneurship and women, and then a panel discussion of four incredible women artists and/or business owners who are part of or affiliated with Little Africa” Saleh said.
Fashion designer Ngeri Nnachi, documentary photographer Netsanet Negussie, Sabrina Café owner Karima Omer, and Sunshine Beauty Salon owner Freowini Sium served as panelist during a discussion aimed at addressing and unpacking barriers African women entrepreneurs and artist encounter. The panelist shared their personal life journeys, and spoke about success and the strength and resilience of African women entrepreneurs and artists. The event also served as a networking opportunity where attendees were encouraged to get to know new people.
“I think what stood out most for me was that there were icebreaker questions on the tables to help us get to know the other people we were seated with. Also, we were sort-of assigned to a table. So we had to break out of our comfort zones and get to know people we otherwise may not have met.” Said T. J. Akisanya, a local App developer and founder of the Belle Natives LLC who attended the event.
“What inspired me most is that this is something we as a community are doing for ourselves. The organization that went into the event was apparent.” Said Akisanya.
The night featured Economist and University of Concordia Professor Dr. Bruce Corrie who spoke on his research highlighting the impact of African women business owners in Minnesota. Tim Griffin from Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation spoke about his organization’s partnership with Little Africa to implement a Façade Improvement project. An artistic highlight of the evening were a series of poems read by the acclaimed interdisciplinary artist Ifrah Mansour
With around 50 people from diverse backgrounds and professions in attendance, the Flamingo restaurant was jammed packed with an electrifying energy throughout the event. “I liked the storytelling, and the business women telling their experiences and encouraging others” Said Flamingo Owner Frewoini Haile. Haile went on to say how she enjoyed the exposure the event provided her business.
For AEDS Arts Organizer Lula Saleh, it was this sort of layered impact which made the event a success. “Some highlights for me were seeing the sincere appreciation for women artists, seeing some of the art that was created from the storytelling dialogue itself, talking to some aspiring African women entrepreneurs in the room, and hearing the robust conversations about the needs of the community, especially women, to be thriving artists and entrepreneurs. The biggest takeaway for me was the sense of community that was created, the safe space, and the dialogue that I don’t think could have happened if not setup intentionally through our direct community organizing and outreach to African women.” She said.
The next Little Africa community event will take place on April 5th from 4-9pm in the former American Bank building 1578 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN. Visit our Eventbrite to RSVP.