How an “it takes a village” philosophy led to a winter bazaar in Germantown

Inside a seemingly nondescript white brick building at 45 E. Church Lane in Germantown, colorful batiks hang from the spiral staircase. After three flights of stairs, African prints appear on the banister while white icicle lights frame a single door.

The small foyer opens into a large dance studio filled with art vendors, drummers, reggae DJs, vegan and vegetarian fare and African inspired crafts and clothing. Also at this winter bazaar are three women in long skirts, natural hair locs and colorful garb. All artists, they call themselves the Torchlight Collective, a name inspired by abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

Their names are Zendra Shareef (a hair and jewelry artist), Baiyina Brown (real estate agent by day and co-founder of the Solar Re handmade jewelry line) and Maleka Fruean (a poet and events coordinator at an independent Mt Airy bookstore). Collectively, the women have 13 children and practice an “it takes a village” technique. What brings them together today, though, is commitment to a more natural lifestyle.

“A lot of us have like-minded goals and a vision for a better world,” said Fruean, mentioning the benefits of buying fair-trade, organic and sustainably made local products.

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Over the course of 10 years, in the living rooms of their homes, they held “cafe and arts nights” that expanded to Fernhill Park near the Wayne Avenue train station. They wanted to find a year-round place, though. Enter the “Free to be Dance Studio,” recently opened and owned by Brown’s sister.

“A dance studio is not the easiest thing to keep from underwater, and neither is a community center, so we’re supporting each other,” she said of the collective that started a girls’ arts-and-crafts group to mentor and empower young women. In the new space, they hope the programs expands with family friendly events.

The collective’s first winter bazaar

Last weekend, the collective’s first annual winter bazaar featured local artists and felt like a family reunion with children dancing to drum beats and playing tag amid vendor tables. Leather and feather earrings, paintings, curry and spice rubs to homemade natural hair care products and even quartz crystals were for sale.

The crystal vendor, Ras Ben, began as a vegetarian caterer in Germantown nearly 20 years ago. After serving food at a spiritual retreat, he became fixated on its message. Healing power is what’s behind the semi-precious stones he sells. Ben said that people don’t realize that quartz is used in modern-day electronics like cell phones, computers and other gadgets because of its ability to conduct energy.

“It reconnects us with the earth,” the original owner of Mt. Airy’s RockStar Gallery said of his responsibly harvested stones.

Other local vendors included Rasa Salon, which specializes in handmade natural hair care products for dreadlock.

“It comes from a spiritual base, so that all the work and handcrafts are done with love,” said Lubna Muhammad, whose son and daughter-in-law own the salon, while leaning over her table filled with incense burners, earrings, scarves and homemade clothing. “We consider the elements from which we take and pass it on to others so that’s whats important to us.”

Among the dozens of visitors came to the holiday craft fair, Germantown newcomer Caryn Rivers eyed up some African angel tree ornaments from S.O.N. Art. She said local shows are refreshing because “there’s a connivence of junk in Germantown.”

Her friend, Sonya Carey, has lived in the neighborhood for nearly three decades. She said she remembers when there was a large artist scene, but that most shops closed over the years and moved on, and is excited that the dance studio will double as an African cultural center as well.

Said Carey, “We need more of this.”

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