Third annual Melanin in May festival to be bigger and better

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The third annual Melanin in May takes place on Saturday, May 25, 2024 and will feature more than 150 Black-owned businesses, 14 food trucks, 11 visual artists and live performances. (Photo provided/via Melanin in May website)
The third annual Melanin in May takes place on Saturday, May 25, 2024 and will feature more than 150 Black-owned businesses, 14 food trucks, 11 visual artists and live performances. (Photo provided/via Melanin in May website)

Melanin in May, the festival celebrating all things Black, including business, art, music and food, is back for year three.

Celebrated in Indianapolis during Memorial Day weekend, the day-long festival promises to be bigger and better this year with more than 150 local, Black-owned businesses, food trucks, musicians, artists and more, said festival founder and organizer of Naptown DONT SLEEP, Dominic Dorsey.

“It’s just an amazing opportunity to experience so much — it’s sights, it’s sounds, it’s taste,” Dorsey said. “It’s really a symphony of the senses, but all from a very specifically Afrocentric lens.”

Melanin in May’s origins stem from the Spring Black Business Bazaar in 2019, which hosted the first Black Food Truck Battle Royale. Now three years in, Dorsey said attendees can expect a bigger and better event all around, from the soundstage to the Afrocentric ArtWalk, Black-owned Food Truck Battle Royal, the Ebony Entrepreneur Cohort and local vendor market.

“It’s a great feeling because it’s validated. It’s something that goes from thought to fruition and it’s like, wow, this was possible that people find value in it,” Dorsey said. “But then it becomes a thing … How can we continue to make this something that does not become stagnant or old, but becomes something people continue to look forward to because it’s fresh, and there’s something new, something unexpected? So absolutely, that’s a challenge, but it’s one that we welcome, and we look forward to tackling every year.”

Melanin in May presents an opportunity for local business owners, musicians, artists and outreach organizations to connect with and serve the community, but for many visual artists, the festival acts as the first major event where they can showcase their work and network, Rae Parker, local artist and curator of the Melanin in May Afrocentric ArtWalk, said.

Parker, who uses her work to bring awareness to women and LGBTQ+ empowerment and social justice, said the Afrocentric ArtWalk aims to highlight different aspects of community artists.

Melanin in May welcomes returning and first-time competitors for the Black-owned Food Truck Battle Royale during the festival on May 25, 2024. (Photo/Wildstyle)
Melanin in May welcomes returning and first-time competitors for the Black-owned Food Truck Battle Royale during the festival on May 25, 2024. (Photo/Wildstyle)

The Afrocentric ArtWalk features 11 local artists of color, ranging in styles and mediums, including Michael Bullock, Brandin J. Hurt, Kierra Ready and Precious Young. Several of the artists are also tattoo artists, and Parker said it will be nice to showcase a different side of their work considering tattoo artists are artists first.

“Every artist has a great energy that comes with them. They all have a great story that comes with them,” Parker said. “It’s gonna be a huge wave of energy and inspiration for the people to see and meet these artists during this event.”

More than 14 local Black-owned food trucks will be onsite for attendees to enjoy, including first time vendor Natasha Bledsoe of Tastys by Tasha.

Bledsoe’s love of cooking led her to opening her food trailer in 2022. Although her ultimate goal is to go full time, she currently spends weekends whipping up Mexican, Asian and Jerk fusion dishes for catered events, parties and festivals.

Despite this being Bledsoe’s first year vending at Melanin in May, she is excited for the opportunity to network and connect with people, give back to the community and get the word out about her business.

“I feel like in our community, we all kind of come from the same background. It’s like, not a lot of stuff is handed to us, a lot of things we have to work on our own and do on our own,” Bledsoe said. “So it’s really nice when everybody comes together and you can see everybody working hard and everybody showing up for one another and giving back and just seeing everybody smiling.”

READ MORE: SPARK returns to Monument Circle in June

This year’s Black-owned Food Truck Battle Royale welcomes returning champion Good Vegan/Bad vegan and several new competitors — like Bledsoe — looking for a chance at victory. The competition will be judged by Chef Oya Woodruff, Chef Natasha “Lucky” Anderson, Candace Boyd Simmons, Den Den and Dr. Ariel D. Smith. 

Each of the competitors will present a dish served on their truck and will be judged on appearance, execution and taste, Dorsey said. The highest ranking dish wins, but Melanin in May attendees will also have the opportunity to vote on their favorites for a People’s Choice winner.

Community resources and health screenings will also be available at the festival this year, Dorsey said. Attendees will be able to register to vote and Children’s Express Care Clinic will be onsite offering sports physicals to students as well as free STI/STD screenings from the Marion County Health Department to raise awareness for sexual health, Dorsey said.

“I just hope that people come and, you know, are excited to experience what Black joy looks like up close,” Dorsey said. “It’s designed for the vendors, the artists, the performers to be their most authentic self and for you to come and just let go and just experience it and not worry about who’s watching you because everybody’s there doing the exact same thing. We’re just here to have a good time and be in community with one another.”

Melanin in May takes place May 25, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m at Community Alliance of the Far East Side, 8902 E. 38th St. The festival is free to attend and parking is available in the lot across the street from the venue. For more information about the festival, visit melanininmay.com.

Contact Arts & Culture Reporter Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.