AFRAM was born in the 1970s, when ethnic festivals were all the rage on summer weekends in Baltimore. After some 25 years of ups and downs, it's now going to be replaced in June 2002.
"We want a festival of Marylanders from across the state that focuses on Baltimore," says NAACP President Kweisi Mfume. He will head the event, which will have a new downtown location and a strong emphasis on African-American and Afro-Caribbean culture, education and community involvement.
This is a wonderful idea. So far, the festival has no name. But it is likely to be linked to the growing Juneteenth movement to honor the de facto end of slavery. (June 19, 1865, was the day Union Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and told slaves they were free -- more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation.)
When AFRAM started, it was the biggest black festival in Maryland. Over the years, more successful rivals emerged, including the 13-year-old Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival in Annapolis and the Baltimore County African American Cultural Festival, which will be held for the fifth time this fall.
As Mayor Martin O'Malley and Mr. Mfume unveiled plans for the new effort, they set the goal of attracting visitors and exhibitors from Howard and Prince George's counties as well as the Eastern Shore. Later, they see the festival embracing the entire region, from Pennsylvania to Virginia.
The 2002 Inauguration will be "the best Afrocentric festival that the East Coast has ever seen," the mayor promised.
Ideas are one thing; pulling off successful crowd events is quite another. But with Mr. Mfume's clout and contacts, finding sponsors and big-name attractions should be possible.
Close to three decades ago, ethnic festivals hoped to instill pride and confidence in Baltimoreans. That still is the message -- but it's now aimed at former city dwellers who have been moving to the counties in droves. Or as Mr. Mfume put it, "It's OK to come home, more than OK."