AFRAM unmasked Festival: After more than two decades, the event still weaves together family and community as it celebrates African-American culture

Up Front

The changing face of AFRAM

July 30, 1998|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff

It's AFRAM time.

The 22-year-old festival, which will be held tomorrow through Sunday, is about food, fun, entertainment and crafts. It is especially a time to celebrate and recognize the achievements of African-Americans.

AFRAM has also been about change, and this year is no different. For the first time, it will be held on the grounds of Baltimore's Mondawmin Mall at Gwynns Falls Parkway and Tioga Parkway.

"We are coming back to the community," says Lloyd C. Mitchner, the director of the event. "They welcomed us with open arms. And I mean both Mondawmin Mall and the Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Committee."

AFRAM began in 1976. It was one of the ethnic festivals in the Showcase of Nations. It was held at Dunbar High School and over the years has moved to Hopkins Plaza, Charles Center, Rash Field, Festival Hall and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"It started as a 'Mom and Pop' thing. But it has grown into a major event," Mitchner says. Many people come for the entertainment and the food, but there is much more to AFRAM, Mitchner says.

"A different theme is selected each year," he says.

Last year, AFRAM saluted the Baltimore Bicentennial.

"This year's theme is 'Community awareness harnessing the power of volunteers to build a better future.' We decided to salute the volunteers who work hard in the community and may not get all of the recognition they deserve. We honored six volunteers at the banquet and awarded 12 scholarships."

Over the years, AFRAM has honored people in business, science, education, athletics, the arts and medicine. The different themes have included black educators, black women, the black family, black business and black civil rights activists.

Many families plan family reunions to coincide with AFRAM, the organizers say. During the course of the weekend, the festival usually draws as many as 150,000 people.

The entertainment is a big draw.

"There will be three stages operating simultaneously," Mitchner says. "One of the three stages will be strictly for kids. We encourage everyone to bring their kids and to stay with them. This is a family affair, and we try to encourage families to come."

The AFRAM parade, featuring wrestler Rasta the Voodoo Man, begins Saturday at 10:45 a.m. at Carver Voc-Tech Sr. High School, at Presstman and Pulaski streets, and ends at noon at Mondawmin Mall.

The festival's opening ceremony begins at 1 p.m. Saturday at Mondawmin.

Some of the national acts performing will be Dennis Edwards, who formerly sang with the Temptations, and rappers Doug E. Fresh and Big Punisher. Edwards is performing Sunday at 9 p.m. Fresh will perform Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Big Punisher takes the stage Saturday at 9:15 p.m.

Other groups include Black Cat, Jazz Poet Society and the Charm City Hand Dance Association. One of the local artists will be the rap group Global Platoon, performing at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

"We all met in Baltimore," says Rocket, who describes himself as the CEO of Global Platoon.

"The group is a real strong underground force. We mostly get airplay from the college stations and underground music station. But the direction the group is heading in is mainstream genre. Well, kind of between underground and mainstream," he says.

The group includes rappers with varied backgrounds, including an Italian-American and a Dominican. "Everybody brings something different when we come together. Everybody has a different flavor," Rocket says.

Another rap group, scheduled for a five-minute performance tomorrow at 6 p.m., is Jewel Click Era.

"Jewels shine, and we shine when we perform," says Rasco, one of the five members of the group. "We are a hip-hop group that has been around for two years. We have a style that makes you want to dance. We are not trying to imitate anybody."

THE FACTS

What: AFRAM Expo '98

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

Where: Mondawmin Mall, Gwynns Falls Parkway and Tioga Parkway

Admission: Free

Call: 410-225-7896

Pub Date: 7/30/98

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