Last weekend, the Akron African-American Festival at Lock 3 celebrated its 35th year. What began as a community event in West Akron’s Lane Field is now a daylong celebration of African-American culture, art, food, entertainment and enterprise.
This year’s happening was a culmination of years-long planning by a group of dedicated members, both living and deceased, who have made it their life mission to keeping this festival alive and relevant.
This years theme was “nkonsonkonson”; a symbol of unity and human relations.” It’s a reminder for everyone “to contribute to the community, that in unity lies strength.”
Under the threat of thunderstorms, with temperatures reaching the high 80s, the Festival went on as scheduled Sunday morning. Festival goers were enjoying themselves as they danced to the sounds of WAR, with DJ/MC Tim Williams. Many visitors shopped for handmade jewelry or clothing, specialty beauty products, or quietly looked through paintings.
A collection of photographs labeled Ubuntu: Life or Death made most people stop. Many of the visitors solemnly contemplated the black and white exhibit of men, women and children. Ubuntu is a South African term that roughly translates to humanity or human kindness. It underlined one of the tenets of the festival: to educate.
Connecting city and county organizations with individuals was one of the goals of chairperson Debra Calhoun. She was the main volunteer coordinator, working with development, fundraising, writing proposals, and getting different groups to support the festival. “This events is a win win because it showcases the city. I think it’s one of the best ethnic events in the city.”
This was evident as you walked through. An Akron AIDS collaborative banner hung from the stage. Summit County Children Services passed out literature at a table nestled in between vendors.
In the Youth Pavilion, children could grab a bag filled with school supplies, get their faces painted, and have balloon sculptures made to order. At few tables over, every child who wanted to could try their hands at making a square drum.
Scharra Benn, Sylvia English and Miss TJ passed out take-home souvenirs to the children passing through as parents picked up information from the Head Start table about the program that provides early childhood education for low income preschoolers.
In the health pavilion the Summit County Public Health (SCPH) worked in conjunction with volunteers to address important health issues within the African-American community such as infant mortality, suicide prevention and diabetes. There were intermittent talks from the stage that reminded parents to put their babies to sleep on their backs, and where to go for testing for various illnesses and diseases.
The event was free to participants arriving before 5 p.m., and they did get to enjoy quite a bit of the festivities, which culminated with a performance by the musical group War. If you were lucky enough to grab one of the programs that Benn and Calhoun put together, don’t forget to read through them. They hold a wealth of information bout the Festival.