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    NEA celebrates local diversity with cultural expo
    nea-celebrates-local-diversity-with-cultural-expo

    May 23, 2024

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    The NEA Cultural Expo, arranged by Research Solutions, hosts inaugural event

    Delta Digital News Service

    Thursday, May 23, 2024

    By Avery Jones | Editor

    JONESBORO, Ark. — On Saturday, May 18, the local nonprofit organization Research Solutions hosted their first NEA Cultural Expo. The event lasted from 10 AM to 7 PM at the Centennial Plaza in downtown Jonesboro and was free to attend.

    The event featured crafts, food, and other goods from various local vendors and small businesses as well as live music. According to the executive director of Research Solutions, the purpose of the event was to display the variety of different cultures thriving in Northeast Arkansas.

    “We have so many people from around the country and around the world who live in this area, and we all bring something that contributes to the community but we don’t interact a lot,” stated Lisa Perry. “I’d like to see something that celebrates all that everyone brings to the area.”

    Although this was only the first time this event has happened, they’re hoping that they’ll be able to arrange it next year as well and are already making plans to do so. Perry used to live in another city–Columbus, Indiana–that hosted a cultural expo every year, which is how she came up with the idea.

    When Perry moved here to Jonesboro, she noticed that this area has just as much diversity as Columbus, but there was no similar event. In her last city, the cultural expo was a great way to connect people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions.

    “We really don’t have anything that kind of tries to bridge that gap, and having the other city as an example of something that was working, I thought, why not try it here?” Perry said.

    Their hope is that although the expo was instigated by Research Solutions and they plan to remain involved, it will eventually become a community-led event. However, even though this first event was mainly run by Research Solutions, there were many people in the community who did help, such as sponsorship from local businesses.

    Research Solutions, established in 2022, does research on social sciences and public services. They work primarily on substance abuse and overdose prevention. They’re the fiscal agent for the Arkansas HOPE Coalition, a group of organizations that supports programs for underprivileged youth.

    Some of the cultures that were to be represented at the Cultural Expo included Southern, Hawaiian, African-American, Muslim, Mexican, Filipino, and others. There were at least thirty vendors slated to be there.

    One of the many culturally diverse vendors at the event was NowaraCo, a scarf and hijab company owned by Dr. Nora Bouzihay. It’s the first hijab company in Arkansas and was established in 2018.

    Dr. Bouzihay, who has a doctorate in education, currently works at Southeast Missouri State University. Her grandmother used to call her “Nowara,” which means flower in Arabic. This is how her company got its name.

    All of the scarves are handmade, and the fabric is imported from Morocco. For every three scarves sold, NowaraCo donates a scarf to a refugee in the Middle East. NowaraCo also sells no-snag magnets as a substitute for safety pins.

    Bouzihay started wearing a hijab herself in 2016. She says that she never felt “beautiful” until she started wearing it. Additionally, after her grandmother passed away, she wanted a way to keep her legacy alive.

    “Because I felt so beautiful with scarves, I thought what better way to bring all women and young girls together and feel beauty through scarves in all forms?” Bouzihay said. 

    Although the scarves are frequently bought as hijabs, they can be used for any purpose, says Bouzihay. Women who are suffering from hair loss also enjoy these scarves, and of course, they can be used as neck scarves as well.

    Bouzihay is originally from Morocco but grew up in Jonesboro. During college, she studied abroad in Dubai and Morocco, which is what inspired her to assist women in the Middle East.

    Another vendor at the expo was KO Treats: Taste of the Valley, an independent candy company ran by duo Kiara Riojas and Oliver Quiroz. It was first established in 2022. 

    KO Treats sells chamoy-covered candy. Chamoy is a type of sauce often used in Mexican cuisine, made from pickled fruit and blended with chili peppers, lime, and spices. 

    When she moved to Jonesboro from South Texas, Riojas found herself missing all of the authentic Mexican snacks that could easily be found in any convenience store down there. Riojas decided to remedy this problem herself and sell her own Mexican snacks, bringing the unique flavor of the Rio Grande Valley to Jonesboro.

    Riojas and Quiroz currently sell the candy from home in Lake City, but they provide delivery for Jonesboro and surrounding areas. They also frequently sell at events in Jonesboro similar to the expo.

    Graceful Threads, an inspirational apparel business owned by Ninmah Wallace, was also at the expo. The shop sells clothing featuring Christian and inspirational quotes.

    Wallace is originally from Chicago. She has a bachelor’s degree in business management. 

    Wallace started her business in 2020; she loved designing faith-based apparel for herself, so this business was the natural next step for her. Additionally, she’s a Christian, so she prays and feels inspired about what to design.

    “It was something I knew that I wanted to do because I love to create and design different apparel,” Wallace said. “It’s just something that I was inspired to do…just to be able to support and provide something for families to wear.”

    She has another similar business called SheMadeYaLook, of which Graceful Threads is an extension. SheMadeYaLook is a personal styling service that helps people to find pieces that suit them, match their personal taste, and look good together. Wallace puts together a “StyleBox” and delivers it to the client.

    Graceful Threads sells online and ships the purchases. New designs are released every season. 

    There were several other small businesses featured at the Cultural Expo, including the food truck Filipino Chow, Wise Women Crafts, Vaughn’s Pit Stop BBQ, the bakery Delightful Bites, and much more.

    -30-




    Avery Jones is a senior in The Department of English and Philosophy at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas. She can be reached at [email protected]




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    NEA celebrates local diversity with cultural expo. Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council

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