Spend five minutes in Sojourns, Birmingham’s only fair-trade retail establishment, and you’ll quickly comprehend that proprietress Melissa Kendrick is a woman of the world.
The store features Vietnamese tea sets, African masks, Peruvian jewelry, silk scarves from Nepal, Dominican chocolate, Indian chai.
Of course, there are staples — handmade clothing; handcrafted toys; natural body products, including soaps, lotions and lip balms — but the inventory changes often enough that I think of the store as a sort of international destination in my neighborhood. The goods come from more than 360 artisan co-ops in 55 countries.
When Sojourns opened almost seven years ago, I remember Kendrick told me, “Every time a customer walks in, I want it to look and feel like a different store.” She has pulled it off and then some, in that Sojourns always looks and feels familiar, too.
With the inaugural Birmingham International Street Fair, scheduled for 11 a.m.-7 p.m. on Saturday, May 12, Kendrick appears to be taking the store’s mission into the streets. But then again, if the point of Sojourns has been to bring the rest of the world to Birmingham, maybe the point of the street fair is to remind residents that the world’s already here.
With the theme “Our City the World,” the festival will extend across three blocks of Third Avenue North — from 19th Street to Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. — and will feature dozens of performers; artists; food vendors; and cultural, educational and non-profit organizations.
“We’re representing the world as it’s represented in Birmingham,” Kendrick said Tuesday morning. “China will be here, as will Ireland, Spain, South Africa, Colombia, India, Kenya, West Africa, the Caribbean. For us, this is about working with the numerous and strong multicultural organizations that Birmingham already has. In the past, when Sojourns has hosted events with international performers, people have asked us, ‘Where did you find these people?’ More often than not —and certainly in the case of the street fair — these aren’t performers that we’ve brought in from other parts of the world. Instead, they’re people already here in Birmingham, and the existing multicultural organizations have connected us.”
In addition to the multicultural organizations, the Birmingham International Street Fair has several non-profit partners, including the Alabama Alliance for Arts Education, Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Birmingham Sister Cities Commission, BirminghamMom.com and the City Center Neighborhood Association.
“The Nature Conservancy came on board as one of our education vendors, and one of their objectives for participating was to highlight the organization’s international programs,” Kendrick explained. “I was thrilled that they approached us. I saw it as that organization making a local-global connection that I hadn’t even imagined, but it makes so much sense for them to be a part of the street fair.”
Richard Tucker, director of operations for the Alabama chapter of the Nature Conservancy, added that the festival offers an opportunity for the organization to showcase its regional efforts, too.
“We’ll showcase our work in Africa, Central and South America, Mongolia,” Tucker said. “But our Alabama work is just as much a part of our global efforts.”
His remarks brought to mind the old saw “Think global, act local” — a popular slogan in fair-trade circles (as well as in other social movements too numerous to name here).
If the whole idea behind shopping locally is to support your community, and the idea of a local global market is to diversify a single community while simultaneously supporting and improving dozens of communities around the world, then maybe the idea behind an international festival is to recognize that our differences do as much to unite us as they do to divide us. It then becomes an act of civic conscience to show up and shop and eat and drink and dance.
“I think a lot of people don’t see the diversity of this city,” Kendrick said. “Maybe some don’t want to, but the result is that we don’t tap into what that diversity offers us. Part of the point of this festival is to help Birmingham embrace cultural diversity. This place is about more than HB 56 and black-and-white issues. I hope that the festival shows that.”
The 2012 Birmingham International Fair will take place on Saturday, May 12, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., on Third Avenue North between 19th Street and Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. Participating food vendors include Taj India, Taipei 101 and Miami Café; Pita Loco and Paramount Yogurt will both be open during the festival. Admission is free ($5 donation recommended). Get more details at www.birminghammulticultural.org or the Sojourns website, www.adventureartpeace.com.
11:20 a.m.-11:50 a.m. • Jasmine Dance Ensemble
(Chinese Cultural Association)
Noon-12:45 p.m. • Marc Gunn
(Celtic folk singer)
12:55-1:35 p.m. • Indian Cultural Association
(Traditional Indian dance)
1:30-2:30 p.m. • Nathifa
(West African dance classes)
2:20-3:05 p.m. • Corazon
3:15-4 p.m. • Carlos Castilla
(Classical Latin Guitar)
4:10-4:55 p.m. • Umdabu
(Zulu dancers and drummers)
5:10-5:45 p.m. • Katie Cox School of Irish Dance
(Irish and Celtic dance)
6 p.m. • B-Law Riddenwise