Photo: DeSeandra Sheppheard with her husband, Uhuru Nyangweso courtesy of The Black Market
Written by: Mecca Bos
Even though DeSeandra Sheppheard calls herself a “proud Frogtown resident,” having grown up in one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in either of the Twin Cities, she still felt some lowkey shame around her community as a kid.
“All of my relatives were from New Orleans, L.A., and Chicago, and they’d always say how we had no culture. We’re so slow, there’s nothing Black. . . It fueled me. I was always wanting for more Black space.”
So she set about making it. She started a magazine about local Hip Hop culture, Deuce City Swag, and she opened up a women’s clothing boutique, Blush, in East St. Paul, and then moved it to her own neighborhood in Frogtown. These were her first forays into shaping the sort of culture that she felt missing in Minnesota.
“We’re just so Northern, and we’re all missing out -- even we as Black people are missing out on Black culture.”
As the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of The Graves Foundation, which works to support youth development, Sheppheard says she’s a “first-generation everything,” and as the oldest of ten children, it's her duty to lead and help provide a better experience for her younger siblings.
“It’s a role I take very seriously.”
To be accurate, Sheppheard says she wants to create inclusive space, but she also wants to be clear-- the space also needs to be culturally Black. And what exactly is “culturally Black”?
It’s a thing that you know when you feel it.
And since she still doesn’t feel enough of it in Minnesota, Sheppheard is still making it.
Back in the early 2000s, when you couldn’t just Google “Black-owned business,” she began dreaming of The Minnesota Black List, which is what it sounds like -- a list of professional Black people doing everything in business from dentistry to doughnuts. Because what’s the first thing that makes Black space? Black people.
Far too often in Minnesota, you can still walk into a space, and see only white faces. It’s the first thing that can make Black and brown people feel unwelcome.
“Every single person in the place is white? You can’t tell me that a hundred percent of the people who interviewed here were white,” Sheppheard imagines.
And though she says that she’s not judging a place necessarily on how many Black people are working there, subtleties do matter. And judging from the response to the first Black Market that originally took place at the Minneapolis Farmers Market Annex -- over 900 visitors, plus interest from over 170 vendors -- she’s not alone in her hunger for these subtleties.
“Our music, our culture, Black babies running around, Black grandmas and grandpas, it’s very inclusive. It’s Black, it’s beautiful, we have smiling vendors, aunts and uncles. You’re going to hear Whitney Houston, James Brown, and maybe a little Drake. I challenge our city leaders. We need more spaces and places that feel like this. All spaces should feel inclusive to everybody.”
Minnesota has traditionally been an extremely segregated place. While we don’t tend to think of ourselves as connected to the historical racism of the Jim Crow South, racial covenants created structural barriers like redlining that did similar work of keeping Black people from occupying large swaths of geography. The historical scars of removing informal segregation do not magically disappear overnight, or even over the decades.
“This is something everyone should care about right now,” says Sheppheard , who co-founded The Black Market with George Shannon in 2020 after the worldwide uprising surrounding the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Black space, or inclusive space, is simple, she says. “It’s where you feel heard, seen, and welcomed.”
The Black Market is held every second Saturday of the month and showcases 30 to 60 vendors at each event.
“There’s food, shopping, household, barbeque, games for the kids, music!”
What do you love about Saint Paul?
Saint Paul is a calm, cool city with a multitude of different cultures and spaces to enjoy both as a single person and with family.
What is your favorite place to take a newcomer or guest in Saint Paul?
For someone who likes nightlife, I always take them to Lowertown -- we love having drinks and hanging out down there! If it’s more family-oriented, it’s usually grabbing something good to eat at Brasa, then heading to Como Park Zoo & Conservatory which I think is a really unique, fun space in the city.
What is your favorite Saint Paul neighborhood, and what is the vibe of that place?
I’m biased because I grew up in St. Paul so of course, I want to say my neighborhood, Frogtown, which just feels like home to me. All the small businesses, families, the little corner stores, community centers and Uni-Dale (University Ave & Dale St) - it just feels like a small community within a major city.
But Lowertown is my other favorite. It is a beautiful area and feels fun, upbeat and vibrant.
Can you recommend a Saint Paul space that you would say is very inclusive and diverse? The Lab Taproom is such a fun space that is very inclusive and sort of a hidden gem!
What is your favorite place to eat in Saint Paul? Taste of Rondo, right now!
Taste of Rondo, photo credit: Paul Vincent Stills & Motion
Mecca Bos is a Twin Cities based food writer and professional chef. Thinking of tacos and travel are hobbies. Her work can be found at meccaboswrites.com