City celebrates African-American culture AFRAM offers revelers tastes of history, food

August 04, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

Among the booths selling jewelry, barbecued ribs and colorful garb from African countries, Melvin Tahir of Suitland found a bit of living history yesterday at AFRAM Expo '96.

Former Negro League players Vincent Lee and Ernest Burke were selling autographed baseballs and calendars at the 20th anniversary festival.

"You normally can't even find things like this," said Tahir, 48, after paying $14 for a signed baseball and a calendar. "When you see these guys here who played in the Negro Leagues who didn't get a lot of notice, now they are getting it. It's heartwarming to see what they are doing."

Tahir is one of 80,000 to 100,000 people who organizers expect by the time the three-day festival -- in Parking Lots B and C at

Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- ends at 10 p.m. today. The festival opens at noon. Admission is $5; children under 7 get in free.

Despite forecasts of rain yesterday, visitors met with hot weather. Youth stepping teams and drum corps from across the city paraded onto the festival grounds and performed on the main stage.

Tonight's entertainment starts at 6 p.m. and includes the Heaven 600 Choir and Commissioned.

The 210 booths this year offer information and products from around the world. The American Liver Foundation sponsored a booth for its "Get Hip to Hepatitis" campaign to inform people of the dangers of body piercing and sharing razors, both means of transmitting the viral disease.

Sisters Stephanie Thompson and Debbie Mason came out in search of bargains.

"It's bigger than most other festivals," said Mason, 34, of Woodlawn. "There's more products and more things to choose from, and they have better prices than in a boutique."

They found a good buy at My Mama's Crab Cakes. "We tried hers because we could see her making it," said Thompson, 35, of Randallstown as she munched on a $4 crab cake on a bun. "We knew it was all crab meat and not a whole lot of filler."

The woman behind the booth preparing the the crab meat is not "Mama," but one of Mama's three daughters, Lelia Johnson.

"Mama's gone on to glory," Johnson explained. "I'm carrying on for her."

Johnson, 66, and her sister Marti Brown, in her 40s, say they use the recipe their mother, an Eastern Shore native, developed years ago and sold in her seafood restaurant on Edmondson Avenue. "After going to AFRAM for years and tasting everybody else's crab cakes and knowing our mother's were better, we decided to open up a booth this year," Brown said.

Although the two say they are not interested in opening a restaurant, many AFRAM vendors have gone on to business success, said Lloyd Mitchner, director of AFRAM. "They come to AFRAM three or four years and the next thing you know they have a store of their own," he said.

The festival also provides a venue for up-and-coming entertainers as opposed to established superstars, he said. Giving individuals a boost toward success is much of what AFRAM is about.

Over the years, AFRAM, a nonprofit organization, has given $200,000 to college-bound students and to city organizations and programs aimed at helping youth, said Julia B. Woodland, chairwoman of the group's executive committee.

The effort has come a long way since AFRAM's first few years, when the festival made no money, said Woodland. "Now we are raising enough funds to send two students to college for four years every year," she said. "We've come a long way."

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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