African-American showcase AFRAM Festival raises scholarship funds, cultural awareness

September 07, 1997|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

The afternoon sun was comfortably warm, youths were kicking back to Puff Daddy on the loudspeaker and people milled around perusing African anklets, dresses and artifacts at the AFRAM Festival in Camden Yards parking lots F, G and H yesterday.

Amid the thousands at the festival, Michelle Wilson slowly strolled, taking in the sights with a strawberry shortcake in hand and a good friend by her side.

"This is great for young people because they can see that they can have their own businesses, too," said Wilson, 33. "It also gives people a chance to come out and support African-American businesses."

This weekend, about 150,000 people are expected to pass through the AFRAM Festival, according to organizer Julia B. Woodland. The event, which started Friday and concludes tonight, is an annual fund-raiser that showcases African-American culture. It has generated more than $200,000 for scholarships in its 21-year history, Woodland said.

The festival's theme this year is "AFRAM '97 Salutes Baltimore's Bicentennial," and Woodland said it is a tribute to the city and its African-American students.

"Every year, it gets more wonderful," she said. "I look at it, and I go, 'Wow, we're going to get more scholarship money.' "

The festival itself turned out to be educational for some yesterday. Seven-year-old Ashley Barner and her brother, Marcus, 4, spent the day learning about their heritage. Their mother took them to various booths and asked vendors to explain the meanings of different symbols in African art.

Angela DeVaux, a minority recruitment specialist for the American Red Cross, manned her organization's bone marrow donor booth. DeVaux said she was trying to inform people of the lack of African-Americans on the national donor list.

But tucked away in a quiet corner with no free pens or magnets to offer or eye-catching clothes, jewelry or food on the table, DeVaux had problems recruiting donors. She had signed up fewer than 50 people by late yesterday afternoon, compared with a total of 200 at last year's festival.

Wilson, a Baltimore consumer sales representative, was one of many people who chose to spend time at booths shopping. And before she knew it, she said she'd spent about $70 buying such things as African sandals and anklets.

Rodney Johnson, 24, also was shopping. Looking sharp in green slacks and a striped dress shirt, he sauntered along, his eyes slowly scanning the faces, the people, the bodies.

This was Johnson's second year at the festival, but he wasn't there so much for the culture as the company.

"It would be better if there were more women here," said Johnson, a graduate student from Columbia. "Everywhere I go, I want to meet women.

"Last year, it seemed like there were more," he added. "But it could have been that I came on the last day. Maybe I'll come back again."

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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