AFRAM fest serves up culture, food and fun

August 07, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Attending Baltimore's AFRAM festival yesterday proved to be a learning experience for Gloria Shaw.

"I came just to see different things going on and possibly learn something," the 53-year-old Harrisburg, Pa., resident said. "When were being raised, our parents didn't tell us [about our cultural heritage]."

Ms. Shaw is one of thousands of people who attended AFRAM Expo '94, which celebrates the cultural heritage of African-Americans with arts, crafts, food, music and games from around the world.

"This is the largest African-American festival on the East Coast," said J. C. Shay, spokesman for the event, in its 18th year. "The size of it, longevity of it and the multiethnic feel of it" have made the event a success since 1976, he said.

More than 100,000 people are expected to attend the three-day festival, which ends today on parking lots B and C of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

This year's festival features 216 vendors -- the largest number in the event's history -- selling everything from cowrie-shell necklaces and African masks to funnel cake and curried chicken. The event's relocation from Festival Hall -- where it had been held for the past seven years -- has enabled organizers to double the festival's size this year.

"Our goal was to enlarge it and expand it beyond the state and make it a national event," said Westley B. Johnson, general chairman of the AFRAM festival.

In addition to the arts and crafts, festival-goers this weekend have been able to see Grammy-award winner Toni Braxton of Severn, who was parade marshal Friday night, and to hear the Delphonics sing yesterday. Atlantic Starr, Regency and Gerald Levert are scheduled to perform today.

"This year is the biggest lineup of entertainers in terms of the number and popularity," Mr. Shay said.

Festival-goers wandered through arts and crafts booths yesterday, inspecting beaded necklaces, bracelets, cloth caps, sandals and wooden masks from across the United States and overseas. A silver pendant with a figure of a man caught the eye of Baltimorean Charles Smith.

"I can find some nice black merchants, good food and good people," he said as he bought the $8 necklace.

But Chris Franklin of Randallstown said the festival's new location has robbed the event of its ethnic uniqueness.

"I liked it when it was held at the Inner Harbor, because it felt right," he said. "I thought it was the most outstanding place to be. In here, it doesn't seem the same. It feels more isolated."

The festival was moved this year because the Baltimore Convention Center is being expanded to the former site of Festival Hall.

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