Separate festivals honor African, African American heritage, culture
By Eric Lagatta
Columbus has long been home to African Americans who have contributed to the city’s rich tapestry. For decades, the neighborhood now known as the King-Lincoln District has buzzed with African American business owners, musicians and artists. And throughout the city, African immigrants are bringing their own cultures to Ohio’s capital.
Through simple coincidence, central Ohioans can experience both at two festivals: the third annual African American Cultural Festival and the inaugural Columbus African Festival.
The two free festivals offer guests distinct experiences: one of local African American history, and one of the cultures that immigrants have brought from overseas. Here is what to expect:
African American Cultural Festival
MAYME MOORE PARK, 240 MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. BOULEVARD
Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday
Taking place in the heart of the historic King-Lincoln District, the festival will showcase live music along with spoken-word and dance performances by black artists.
This is the first year that the festival will have a two-day run. This gives visitors more time to enjoy live entertainment, art and jewelry merchants and workshops on topics ranging from urban gardening to genealogy tracing.
“The mission is to bring the community together and celebrate the rich African American history that is in Columbus,” said Carla Williams-Scott, director of the Columbus Department of Neighborhoods, which presents the festival along with the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department. “It’s an opportunity for us to come together and celebrate each other.”
An opening ceremony will kick off the festivities, followed by a slate of attractions that include a Friday evening tour of the neighborhood and a Saturday morning 5K run.
The Urban Jazz Coalition and MojoFlo are just two of the musical acts scheduled to perform during the festival, and Amos Lynch Plaza will be transformed into a “cultural corner,” where art, poetry, music and fashion will be on display.
Columbus African Festival
INNIS PARK, 2995 INNIS ROAD
From the northern areas of Morocco to the southern reaches of Mozambique, the continent of Africa is home to an array of cultures.
Many of those ways of life are reflected in central Ohio, home to thousands of African immigrants. Saturday’s inaugural Columbus African Festival will showcase the diverse music, fashion and foods that are found in central Ohio. The festival is intended to unite immigrants while introducing their ways of life to the rest of the city.
“It’s high time we showcase our culture,” said event co-founder and president Barth Shepkong, a native of Nigeria who came to the United States in 2003. Shepkong has lived in Columbus for five years with his wife, Gachomo, who also is from Nigeria.
“It’s open to everyone regardless of race, regardless of religion — people who are interested in African culture,” Barth Shepkong said.
The festival is a collaborative presentation between The African — a professional organization of which Shepkong is a part — and the African Professionals Network.
Highlights include a range of Africentric musical performances, a fashion show, poetry readings and ethnic food. Small businesses owned by African immigrants will have the opportunity to advertise their goods and services to a potential new market, Shepkong said.
The African Youth League, a student organization at Ohio State University, is helping with the planning and logistics of the festival. Some of the members will participate in the live performances, including president Akwi Anyangwe, who will showcase the traditional clothing of Cameroon, the homeland of her parents, during the fashion show.
Anyangwe said her hope is that guests realize that African culture is not monolithic, that each country has something different to offer.
“A lot of people do view Africa as one huge lump of land that shares the same culture, which is not true,” she said. “African culture is rich. It’s so authentic; it’s so powerful.”