African American Cultural Festival

African American Cultural Festival

First the Black Cultural Festival, the Dayton African American Cultural Festival has been reborn

By Khalid Moss

Models in the African fashion show from 2009’s AACF. Photos by Joe Long

Models in the African fashion show from 2009’s AACF. Photos by Joe Long

It is great to live in a city that doesn’t just pay lip service to the celebration of cultural diversity. And while serious racial and economic problems still fester under the delicate social fabric of this community, Dayton is a city that takes its commitment to celebrate cultural diversity with gusto.

Amidst the whirlwind of festivals that populate the summer calendar is the annual exaltation of black life and culture, the African American Cultural Festival (AACF) taking place August 27 at Riverscape MetroPark in downtown Dayton.

Now, the Black Cultural Festival used to be a very big deal. Started in the late 1970s, it unfolded over three days and was an event that attracted nationally recognized performers. The first festivals were held in the (then) empty space behind Monument Street along the Miami River. It was moved to Island Park in the ‘90s and later moved again to the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. Then, it was suddenly discontinued. AACF Chairwoman Celestine Taylor-Young said the festival was cancelled due to lack of funds.

“What we understand is that they just didn’t get the financial support,” she said. “I think the City of Dayton was probably a part of the partnership along with Premier Health Partners. For the Dayton AACF we have some folks who were involved with that (Black Cultural Festival) like YaYa Fambrough and Bing Davis who continue to be a part of it. Judge Bill Littlejohn, who is retired, actually started it back up. We were part of Dayton Urban Leagues Black Leadership Alumni. It took us three years to get the paperwork together and pull that all together, now we’re in our third year as far as actually presenting a festival to the community.”

This year the festival will consist of four main components: The African Village, the Think/TV/CET Health Pavilion, the Youth Village and the Main Stage. Merchandise and food vendors will also be on hand. The African Village provides a connection between African Americans and their African roots. It will include an opening ceremony with libations led by Hodari Bomani. Also scheduled is an African fashion show, stilt walkers and an African wedding.

“It’s always been a tradition to have this procession and libation,” she said. “We’re asking people if they are coming out to the festival, they should come early and be a part of this whole gathering in the village and the procession to the main stage.”

MochaReaders, a Dayton organization that promotes literacy in the African American community will host book signings in the Author’s Pavilion at the Dayton AACF. The entire event is free but a goodwill offering of two dollars is optional for festivalgoers.

Taylor-Young said the Health Pavilion is an important component of the festival. “The Health Pavilion will encompass lots of things,” she said. “Premier Health Partners and the Montgomery County Combined Health Agency will be there, the Veterans Administration will have a mobile truck and the Kettering Health Network will be there also.”

The year 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The Dayton African American Cultural Festival will observe this milestone with a historical re-enactment by period actor Kabir. It will be a tribute to abolitionist, journalist and physician Dr. Martin Delaney who died in Wilberforce, Ohio in 1885. Taylor-Young said the festival is tasked with filling in the gaps and educating young people about the struggle for civil rights.

“The community needs their identity supported and validated,” she said. “We (blacks) are 49.5 percent of the City of Dayton so we have to have a presence to show who we are as a people. More importantly, some people don’t understand where we came from. If you talk about the civil rights movement, they really don’t know anything about it. They only have a frame from today. They don’t know what I went through sitting in downtown Dayton but not being able to eat at Kresge’s. They don’t know what it was like to go in stores and not being able to try on clothes. They don’t know about the heroes and sheroes that sacrificed for us to make the way it is today. They have no connection to Africa.”

After numerous moves and cancellations, the AACF finally has a home at Riverscape MetroPark. With its injection of new leadership and with a sound financial foundation Taylor-Davis is looking at a bright future for the festival.

“Downtown Dayton’s Riverscape Park is perfect for us,” she said. “It’s right in the center of Dayton. What we want to do is make sure we are inclusive of everyone. We are at a location where everyone can feel comfortable.”

Reach DCP freelance writer Khalid Moss at KhalidMoss@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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