Culture at Duquesne: African Marketplace brings international influence to the Pittsburgh community

The Shepherd's Door is a non-profit storefront in Bellevue that gives back to the community. Aldrea Reese-Brown (left) and Peggy Heartman (right), store manager, sold homemade giftware at the African Marketplace.

by Megan Trotter | staff writer

March 23, 2022

Duquesne’s Center for African Studies hosted their biannual African Marketplace on Wednesday, March 23, featuring several African-themed businesses and vendors. 

Dozens of people filtered through the Union Atrium, avoiding the afternoon rain as they stopped to take a look at the many products and companies that set up shop. 

In the past, The Center for African Studies put on Africa Week, which focused on the promotion and teaching of African culture, according to Cassie DiBenedetti, a student aid at the Center. 

The purpose of these events is to encourage students to major or minor in African Studies, she said. 

Since the marketplace had always been a big hit, they decided to “rebrand” and have the popular event take place more frequently.

The Center for African Studies partners with companies all over Pittsburgh, hoping to help with business promotion and cultural learning events. 

As part of the fun, Melissa Jenkins, a dance instructor and founder of Afro Love PGH brought a speaker and showed off some of her dance moves. 

“I want to create a platform to bring people together,” Jenkins said, “so I can share the love that I have for this culture and dance.” 

In bringing in choreographers directly from Africa she hopes for her studio to be a space where anyone can feel comfortable to learn and to create bridges between cultures. 

Many of the vendors at the marketplace were non-profits, with a majority of their staff made up of volunteers. 

One of the non-profits, The Shepherd’s Door, Bellevue, was started around 40 years ago by a retired schoolteacher. 

“Part of our mission is to continue to be that light,” said Peggy Heartman, the current store manager. 

Oftentimes, Heartman explained, people come in just to talk or pray. She said one of her favorite things about Shepherd’s Door is the mix of people that come together—regardless of their own personal denomination—and work to refer those struggling to places that can help. 

The same inclusivity could be seen across the market, where the vendors themselves were of a variety of backgrounds, but each inspired by and dedicated to sharing African culture. 

Justin Forzano, the founder and CEO of Open Field, a youth development organization, works to promote life skills, leadership, female empowerment and community development. With over 1,000 kids in the program, Open Field helps support immigrant refugee youth.  

During one of his many trips to Cameroon, Forzano said he was inspired by the colorful African shirts. He decided to bring a few back to sell and “share the love” with the students of Duquesne. 

Freshman Maria Weideman said that while she had no idea the event was going on until passing by during a coffee run, she thinks it is really cool that Duquesne is exposing students to these types of organizations and making everyone more aware of other cultures. 

The other businesses at the marketplace included New Hope, Ten Thousand Villages, PSquare Scents and City Grows LLC. Each vendor brought a unique message of diversity to the market, some supporting cultural traditions from around the world.

For students who entered the Union expecting just to get some homework done or maybe grab a coffee, they left instead with a collection of jewelry, plants, books, candles, coffee and a greater understanding of African culture.