By Abby Ott, Staff Writer
Most creative hairstyle competition. An African drum orchestra. Live blues and hip-hop. Zulu stilt dancers. Church on the street.
The 22nd annual African Street Festival was held at Jackson Fairgrounds Park this past weekend, which included a plethora of events. The activities available were as diverse as the participants. Every year the street festival is sponsored by the Society for African American Cultural Awareness (SAACA).
“Our society tries to bring culture to the community, show entrepreneurship and unify people,” said Wendy Trice, president of the SAACA. “It is a community event for young and old. We like to call it a party with a purpose.”
Trice said SAACA’s goal is to “expose the community to Africa” in order to teach the African American community in Jackson about their heritage and culture. Every year, the festival features a different African country, and this year was The Republic of Benin. A representative from the country was available during the festival to speak with attendees. Trice said she encourages people to speak with vendors.
“Most of the people (who attend the festival) do not know anything about Africa, but they can just ask me,” said Abu Diawala, festival merchant and Mali native. “You have to introduce them to the culture, and then they will need to go (to Africa) for themselves, because they will love it.”
Diawala sells antique African masks and other goods. He travels to Africa three times a year to buy new products.
People mingled to buy jewelry, art, clothing and oils. They also ate diverse cuisine and listened to music. The participants ranged in ethnicity and came together to enjoy the event and learn about one another.
“It is important to give everybody a chance to get together and to open it up to the community at large,” said Janet Furness, Union’s associate dean of social work at Union. “The more we have the chance to interact, the more we can value the many kinds of diversity. The term African American is not monolithic.” James Theus, co-founder of SAACA, said culture is of utmost importance.
“You have to practice culture,” Theus said. “I learned things about myself I did not know, and now I practice my African culture. I am trying to bring it back.”
In African society, Theus said there is meaning in everything from clothing to religion. At the festival, people can learn how to incorporate African tradition into their daily routine.
“Children today do not know about being a boy and becoming a man. That is what we want to teach our people,” Theus said. “We want to train our young people to take over. . . . (They) need to know who they are and where they came from.”
The African Street Festival also resembles a family reunion.
“There are people here that I haven’t seen in years or since the last African Street Festival,” said Kathy Moore, program organizer for SAACA. “I have probably hugged about 100 people.”