Creative Solutions

Unseen Heroes makes community gathering places

By Jessica Laskey
September 2022

During the pandemic, Roshaun Davis took a big step back to reevaluate.

The co-founder of award-winning “experience agency” Unseen Heroes took stock while in-person events were impossible.

His discovery set the organization on a new path.

“Over time, people would throw all of these different labels on us—an event agency, a retail store, a consulting agency—and all of these labels served us during those times, but it didn’t really put a label on what we do at our core,” says Davis, a Greenhaven resident who started Unseen Heroes with wife Maritza.

“One of things we learned during the pandemic is how invaluable it is to step back from labels. At our core, we’re a community development corporation. When I think about the evolution of UH, I always equate it to the community.”

Unseen Heroes has been many things to many people over its 14-year history. It launched some of the area’s most popular markets, including the Midtown Farmers Market, GOOD: Street Food + Design Market, Gather and its newest venture, NeighborGood Market.

The organization runs Display: California, a retail store in Oak Park that features products from California makers, artists and entrepreneurs. As an events agency, UH marketed countless client functions, including the mayor’s inauguration and Dîner en Blanc.

But what really makes UH tick is the people. Davis can name dozens of local entrepreneurs who got their start at one of his group’s markets, including N’Gina Guyton of the fried chicken restaurant South, Gabriel Aiello of nationally distributed Burly Beverages, and Rasheed Amedu of Naija Boy Tacos, whose pop-up restaurant was featured by Eater San Francisco.

“We have a beautiful ecosystem here that’s grown organically,” Davis says. “Our events have been a platform for so much good inside a multitude of different communities. Imagine what we could do if we had the funding to actually give that life even more.”

Last year, UH received nonprofit status along with designation as a community development corporation. Davis hopes this new structure lets UH help people coming up behind him.

“People would say we needed all of these things, like ‘become a nonprofit,’ but we didn’t have the technical assistance. It’s just not available for people of color,” Davis says. “Now, as a CDC, one of the programs we’ll be running is technical assistance focused on creatives, to show people the way to get through the road map to the creative economy.”

Community development plans include real estate investment to combat the churn of displacement experienced by Davis.

“We’ve had years of placemaking, but as soon as a place gets made, we get displaced,” he says, noting that the Midtown Farmers Market and GOOD: Street Food + Design Market were taken over by other organizations as soon as they got popular. “Now we’re stepping into place keeping—buying some of these buildings, revitalizing them and making public space for folks that are creative to truly combat gentrification.”

Through a model called place-based development, UH is focused on acquiring real estate to create activity centers where small businesses can thrive (or at least pay rent) and access free community programming and technical assistance.

Davis hopes to increase his staff, composed mostly of local theater artists, and build more concepts such as Be Well, Sacramento, a health and wellness retail experience UH launched during the pandemic.

“Through all of these things, we’re learning how to develop and support the community,” Davis says. “There’s a quote I love—that creatives are the ones who are going to save world with creative solutions, and I truly do believe that. We welcome all sides of that creativity to the table.”

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Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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