ST. PETERSBURG — Six-year-old Ja’lon Rahaman picked up a black pencil with his right hand Sunday afternoon, as he stood in front of the tabletop coming up to his chin. His mother wrapped her arms around him, taking his hand in hers to help guide the words on the sheet of paper.
Underneath “Mayor Rick Kriseman, I have a dream...” Ja’lon wrote about his wish for more clean parks throughout the city for children like him, on the autism spectrum.
His younger cousin, Ny’ana Holmes, 4, clad in a sparking silver jacket and gold crown, wrote the same dream.
Their letters joined a larger collection as part of an initiative by local bookstore Cultured Books called “MLK Dream Power: Letters from St. Pete,” which called on community members to cultivate “the power of letter-writing” said, Lorielle Hollaway, the shop’s founder. Soon those letters will land on the desk of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
The letter campaign was one part of Sunday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Expo, organized by local authors Janaye Hardy and Lola B. Morgan, which featured dozens of local minority business owners and vendors. The idea for the expo began last year, said Hardy, whose vision was to create a one-stop-shop “resource event” with booths and activities geared towards uplifting the community.
While other Martin Luther King Jr. Day events across the bay area moved virtual or were postponed, the expo persisted.
While strolling through the open-air garden at the Villas at Flagler Pointe Apartment Homes in Pinellas Point, attendees could find resources from financial literacy to career preparedness, mental health services and book readings, all after a COVID-19 screening and mask check.
Children ran between tables, burning off steam as they munched on cotton candy and snow cones.
Many of the vendors — some having just started their own businesses last year — were finding a new sense of empowerment themselves after leaving desk jobs and investing in their own dreams.
“I just felt stuck” when I was working in accounting, said Ashley Seay, a vendor who recently started her own holistic skincare business, Total Skin & More, LLC. She started off safe, balancing her day job, until she chose to focus completely on her business.
“I never looked back,” she said. Now, she has more time to spend with her kids and mentors other women looking to work in skincare.
Janice Turner, a baked good vendor and a mother of three, is still navigating the process of monetizing her passion.
Last May, while eating Turner’s homemade dessert, her daughter-in-law said, “Mama, you need to sell this!” That night, she made strawberry crunch cake, oreo crunch cake, and peach cobbler. And after posting photos on Facebook, they sold in less than a day.
“This is what I love to do,” said Turner, who was born and raised in St. Petersburg. “Ever since I was a little girl, I was in the kitchen with my grandmother.”
Now she’s balancing branding her business with delivering orders herself.
Behind her was Willie Hannah and David Moyston of Primerica, a financial services company. They call themselves “financial doctors,” pinpointing where families are hurting and guiding them towards financial literacy.
Together, the vendors are bridging gaps that Hardy and Morgan — the event organizers — believe will help strengthen families from the “inside out,” they said.
“You can thrive,” said Morgan. “You don’t have to go outside of the city to pursue your dream.”
Back at the letter writing table, 45-year-old Taryll Hall reflected on her hope for increased diversity in the community. For Hall, the expo was proof that the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is “still alive,” she said.
“We still have a voice.”
The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg provides partial funding for Times stories on equity. It does not select story topics and is not involved in the reporting or editing.