A weeklong festival celebrating African-American culture, history, music and cuisine begins Saturday in Baltimore.
"Maryland is steeped in the culture of African Americans, and we invite everyone to come and participate in it," says Chris Rogers, spokesman for the fourth annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival.
The theme for the Kunta Kinte Festival, named after an ancestor of Alex Haley popularized in his historical novel "Roots," is "We Are Family." Leonard Blackshear, festival chairman, promises a week filled with "events and experiences which focus on the strength and contributions of the African-American family."
To festival organizers, Kinte symbolizes the African-American struggle to preserve the family even in the worst circumstances.
The highlight of the festival takes place on Sept. 29 with the commemoration of Kunta Kinte's arrival in Annapolis. Actors and dancers from the KanKouran West African Dance Company will re-create the landing of the slave ship Lord Ligonier at the Annapolis City Dock in 1767. Alex Haley will speak about the journey Kinte and other slave families took to freedom. After the ceremony, the festival will continue at the campus of St. John's College in Annapolis.
Designed to resemble an African village compound, the campus' festival grounds will be the location of two days of activities. Arts and crafts for children, traditional African games, food and music will be available. The scheduled entertainers include jazz-vocalist Ruby Glover, storyteller Mary Carter Smith and gospel singers Eric Tolbert and Unity.
You don't have to go to Annapolis, however, to enjoy the festival. There will be two satellite events in Baltimore. Saturday Coppin State College will host cultural workshops examining African dance, dress, storytelling and spirituality. A tour and reception recognizing the historic achievements of African Americans will be held at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum on Monday.
All other festival events are in Annapolis. The first begins Sunday with a family-oriented "fun run" from the Maryland Archives to the Annapolis City Dock, where a plaque dedicated to Kunta Kinte is located.
On Sept. 27 a luncheon will be held at the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel recognizing African Americans who have made significant contributions to society. Earl Grave, publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, will receive the Motherland Award for Distinguished African American Leadership. Grave, with his partner, basketball star Magic Johnson, is the co-owner of a Pepsi-Cola franchise in Prince George's County. It is the largest minority-owned franchise in the state.
More than 800 students from local high schools have been invited to attend the Youth and Education Celebration on Sept. 28 at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. Teachers and students will participate in programs exploring African dance, story and song.
The acclaimed Count Basie Orchestra will play on Sept. 29 at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. A post-concert reception honoring the musicians is also planned.
Throughout the week, there will be displays of paintings, sculpture and photography at the Annapolis Mall and other locations. There will also be exhibits at the State Archives in Annapolis on researching African families, and tours of an archaeological dig near Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis. The festival closes on Sept. 30 with a Gospel Songfest at the festival's center stage on St. Johns campus.
"The festival offers the tradition of the past and the present," Rogers says. "It is an opportunity for everyone to discover African-American culture."
For informantion about times, locations and tickets, call 301-841-6504.