Black heritage festival is set for June 21-23 at Camden Yards

3-day event will appeal more to young people, Mfume, O'Malley say

January 10, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

"Come See Who We Are" is the motto chosen for the new African-American Heritage Festival scheduled for three days in June at Camden Yards, Mayor Martin O'Malley and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume announced yesterday.

The concept and scope is intended as a departure from the former AFRAM festival, an uneven affair held at various venues from 1976 to 2000, most recently at Pimlico.

In recasting the festival for 2002, Mfume and O'Malley said they believed that the past had to be revisited in a fresh way that captures the minds and imaginations of young people. So they are betting on heritage and legacy to bring visitors from Baltimore and the mid-Atlantic region.

"This will be a tremendous celebration of excellence," O'Malley said, naming such past Baltimore figures as jazz musician Eubie Blake and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. "But there are giants in the present, too, ... and I predict this will become the best cultural festival on the East Coast."

Other goals presented yesterday were attracting about 100,000 visitors from June 21-23, the top attendance ever achieved at AFRAM, and raising a half-million dollars to invest in the festival's debut.

The festival will hug part of the baseball stadium at Camden Yards, wending through a promenade where regular Camden Yards food vendors will be open for business, just as during Orioles games.

The main stage, a Caribbean center and festival vendors will be set up on Parking Lot A, off Russell and Lee streets.

A children's area

To make the event family friendly, a children's area will be placed next to the Babe Ruth statue and near three theme tents on education, history and careers on Eutaw Street alongside the warehouse wall.

Talent is being recruited in soul, gospel, jazz and pop music, and Baltimore school students may provide some of the entertainment.

The stage, sound and light logistics will be first-rate, organizers said, and, in another difference from AFRAM, vendor tents will be uniform.

Admission will be free.

Organizers emphasized the importance of the new time -- June instead of AFRAM's usual September date -- and the city's best showcase of Camden Yards in elevating the event.

`Back on a pedestal again'

"This will put it back on a pedestal again," Mfume said, reminding others that once AFRAM -- canceled last year -- was held under an expressway bridge. "Back downtown is where it ought to be, in a premier position."

Sean Z. Tarrant, a community leader in Ashburton in Northwest Baltimore, attended yesterday's event and said he believed the festival would let him tell visitors about his neighborhood.

Mfume is overseeing about a dozen festival committees, among them the entertainment committee led by Billy Taylor, the faith committee headed by Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, and the finance committee headed by Zenith N. Houston.

Acknowledging that AFRAM had fallen on hard times, Mfume referred to creating something better to take its place as "putting Humpty Dumpty together again."

Why Mfume took the job

Discussing how he took on the task, Mfume said he heard from O'Malley on a snowy day in Milwaukee nearly a year ago.

The mayor called about once a month until he heard the answer he wanted: Yes, Mfume would add the festival to his list of things to do outside his responsibilities with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"It would have been easy to let it go," the former congressman said. "But he reached out and broke both of my arms."

O'Malley said later: "I only broke one of his arms."

David Geller, the site coordinator, said Mfume was cut out for the work: "Nobody says no to him."

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