AFRAM Celebrates community and culture

UP FRONT

August 01, 1996|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

It's been 20 years since AFRAM began as a showcase for the African-American community and grew into a festival with top-name performing artists, hundreds of vendors and an expo that donates scholarships to students.

The history of AFRAM, which celebrates African-American food, music, arts and crafts, includes performances by Regina Belle, the Delfonics and Atlantic Starr and an appearance by Grammy Award-winner and Maryland native Toni Braxton, who served as grand marshal of the AFRAM parade in 1994.

"We have had a lot of national recording artists to come through -- Lou Rawls, LaVert and Regina Belle," says J.C. Shay, spokesman for AFRAM, naming but a few.

National recording artists this year include Monica, DJ Kool and II D Extreme. Monica performs at 8: 30 p.m. on Friday; II D Extreme performs at 8 p.m. on Saturday; and DJ Kool performs at 9 p.m. on Saturday.

More than 360 vendors will be in the parking lots at Camden Yards this weekend with wares from Africa and the Caribbean, as well as from the United States. Clothing, food, art, jewelry and more will be sold.

"Another highlight of the last 20 years is that AFRAM has moved to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, beginning in 1993," Shay says. It has gone from being on the blacktop of the new Dunbar High School to Hopkins Plaza to Charles Center to Rash Field to Festival Hall and finally to Oriole Park at Camden Yards."

AFRAM takes place tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday in Lots B and C at the ballpark. It may be two decades old, but its genesis actually goes back much further to something called the Soul Festival, a relatively small event that began in 1970 and was held at Hopkins Plaza.

Six years later, AFRAM began as one of the city's ethnic festivals in the Showcase of Nations. There's the entertainment and the food aspect, but AFRAM is more than that, Shay says.

AFRAM salutes African-Americans who have made strides in business, science, education, athletics and the arts. Every year, there has been a different theme for AFRAM. This year's festival salutes Baltimore's African-American communities.

"The organization has saluted a variety of community groups and people who have assisted the community from law enforcement to the black family," Shay says. "To me that is a major highlight, to be able to bring recognition to the various groups that help make up the African-American community in Baltimore. And to show their achievements and successes, to highlight all of their efforts."

In the past, those themes have included black women, the black family, black business, black civil rights activists, black fraternal organizations, black educators and blacks in medicine.

AFRAM officials say the festival draws people from around the country who plan family reunions or meetings to coincide with it. More than 150,000 people have attended during a weekend.

The AFRAM luncheon is a big part of the event. Past speakers have included Tony Brown, Wilma Rudolph, Dr. Benjamin Carson and retired member of Congress Parren Mitchell. This year's luncheon was on July 12 at the Hyatt Regency, Inner Harbor, with speaker Dr. Thomas N. Todd, a Chicago attorney in private practice.

AFRAM '96

When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.

Where: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Lots B and C

Cost: Tickets for the festival are $5 for adults; children under accompanied by an adult are admitted free. Tickets can be purchased at the gate. Advance tickets are available for $4.

Call: (410) 225-7896

Other AFRAM activities:

* Parade: Saturday, 11 a.m., starting at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Eutaw Street

* Opening ceremony: Saturday,12: 30 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Lot C

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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