Fifth Annual Dayton African American Cultural Festival
By Janyce Denise Glasper
Photo: “We’re looking all the way back to Africa” -Mama Nozipo; Dayton African American Cultural Festival takes place Aug. 23-25
Originally beginning in 1968 as one of Ohio’s first major black celebrations, the Dayton African American Cultural Festival integrates traditional music, interpretive dance, rich folklore storytelling and vibrant visual spectacle with bold African spirit. After a brief hiatus, this fifth consecutive year starts new traditions but remains focused on bringing same reinvigorating energy to Dayton – that same brazen continental vitality. “It’s A Family Affair Culture Matters,” theme connects diverse heritages and bridges four important elements – culture, health, education and art – during the three-day celebration taking place Friday, Aug. 23, Saturday, Aug. 24 and Sunday, Aug. 25.
“This year we’re really emphasizing culture,” said Marlon Shackelford, President of the Dayton African American Cultural Festival. “This three day revival is a way of trying to end ‘communicide’ – the destruction of morals and values. We’re focusing on rebuilding community and taking back our neighborhoods. That’s where the Council of Elders comes in. With almost 60 years of experience and dedication, they become our voices. These principal living legends to Dayton’s historically rich community underline the importance of leaving behind a legacy, having names mean something.”
Part of both the cultural and educational factors of festival celebration, the Council of Elders are driven by the seven Kwanzaa principles: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith). Cultural reform is a key duty to this highly influential group which includes educator/historian Margaret Peters and artist/educator Willis “Bing Davis” of EbonNia Gallery. The African American Cultural Festival rejoices in reviving appreciation for the African Diaspora and becomes a valuable platform for wise heroes and she-roes to become mentors to African American youth. They vow to serve and protect, advise enriched knowledge and stress the “African” part of African American.
“We’re looking all the way back to Africa – to the land mass,” explained Mama Nozipo, a Council of Elders member. “If you don’t have foundation, know where roots are embedded, you don’t know your past, present or future. It starts with African American, not American African.”
The African American Visual Arts Guild (AAVAG), a 21-year-old, nonprofit organization denoting and enhancing creative diversity in Dayton and surrounding areas, is in charge of displaying engaging visual stimulation to African Village – set up on the grassy areas of St. Clair and Monument Streets.
“In the inside tent next to African Village, children’s artwork will be displayed, primarily from Bing Davis’s EbonNia Gallery’s Summer Art Camp. The reception for that will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday. Adult artwork from AAVAG members and nonmembers will also be shown,” said Clifford Darrett, AAVAG’s secretary/historian and renowned local artist.
“The fascinating thing about the Dayton African American Cultural Festival is that it’s not solely about what big bands are playing the stages. The event is more focused on celebrating culture and retaining the experience of Africa,” said Sidney Gnann, Production Supervisor for Five River MetroParks. “The festival kicks off with an exciting parade that features people marching in costumes and arriving on stilts. It starts and ends the same way – with the beat of drums.”
The African American Cultural Festival kicks off on Friday, Aug. 23. The fun continues all day Saturday at Riverscape MetroPark starting at noon and ending at 8 p.m. Highlights consist of a performed African wedding, the distinctive sounds of live R&B, jazz, blues and gospel music, and storytelling. The Youth Pavilion – a special area designed for youth and young adults – will have positive hip hop fronted by Corey Richardson of Phaize I Lion and a poetry slam led by renowned spoken word artist Jay Martinez. Various food vendors, registered dieticians and free health screenings will also be available.
On Sunday, the festival resumes at Omega Baptist Church in an 11 a.m. morning prayer and ends at the Neon Movies for the 6 p.m. premiere of Neil Drumming’s “Big Words,” a film about struggling hip hop artists on the eve of Election Night 2008.
With films galore, artistic expression, health awareness and more for all ages, the Dayton African American Cultural Festival promises to be more than just another event. Proud and pleased, Shackelford summed it up: “It’s a safe, comfortable, art party that celebrates culture for culture’s sake and the human soul and spirit.”
The Fifth Annual Dayton African American Cultural Festival takes place Friday, Aug. 23. Events continue at RiverScape MetroPark in downtown Dayton from noon – 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24. All ages are welcome and the event will be held rain or shine. Events conclude on Sunday at Omega Baptist Church, Harvard Campus, 1810 Harvard Blvd. from 11 a. m. – 6 p. m. For a complete listing of events, locations and times, please visit daacf.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Janyce Denise Glasper at JanyceGlasper@DaytonCityPaper.com.