Event celebrates culture, heritage

Tribute: The Kunta Kinte festival in Crownsville offers more than just entertainment.

August 15, 2004|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Although the drizzling rain fell throughout most of the day in Crownsville, the dreary weather did not dampen the spirits of hundreds who gathered yesterday for the annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival.

The first day of the two-day festival drew thousands of people who danced and sang along with gospel music and rhythm and blues and dined on hot dogs, cheese steaks and barbecue sandwiches.

The annual festival is held to celebrate black culture and to pay tribute to Kunta Kinte, the slave who was the central figure in the book and film Roots.

"I think it's wonderful," said Shannon Reed, a 32-year-old Laurel resident. "I like hearing the music, the whole atmosphere."

The festival began 17 years ago in downtown Annapolis but moved to the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds in Crownsville three years ago. Despite calls for the festival to return to its original location, it probably will remain at the fairgrounds for the foreseeable future, said Jean Jackson, a festival official. Over the years, the event has drawn more than 125,000 people, according to organizers.

The festival drew 65 artisans and craftsmen, 40 community organizations and a dozen food vendors.

Planners expect to host about 7,000 people before the tents are lowered and chairs and supplies are packed away this evening.

The event has drawn sizable crowds even though it has competed with other major African-American heritage events on the same weekend, including WWIN Radio's Stone Soul Picnic, which began yesterday in Baltimore.

It was the first time Jacob Spires, a 13-year-old Forest Heights resident, had attended the festival, and he could not have been more excited.

He ran in the rain, and jumped through the air as if he had found a gold nugget.

"It's about our heritage," Jacob said of the festival and then smiled.

Like Jacob, Kendall Thomas first attended the festival when she was 13. Now the 18-year-old Salisbury resident said she attends every year, working as part of the setup and cleanup crew.

"It mostly taught me responsibility because we've got to clean this stuff up when they leave," Thomas said.

Working along with Thomas was 19-year-old John Chambers, an Annapolis resident on summer break from Howard University in Washington. Chambers began attending the festival five years ago.

He said he likes that many people attend the festival to learn about African-American heritage, not just to have fun.

"A lot of people come with the intent of getting something out of the day, not just for the food," Chambers said. "I've learned mostly how to deal with people. It's a lot of dealing with people in different kinds of social situations."

The event focuses on African, African-American and Caribbean culture.

Organizers named the event after one of 98 slaves brought to Annapolis aboard the ship Lord Ligonier in 1767.

In Roots, author Alex Haley told the story of Kunta Kinte, who was born in Gambia, West Africa.

African-American and other community leaders in Anne Arundel County wanted to highlight his tale through the festival and other tributes.

Jackson said when the festival was held in Annapolis, parking problems and space constraints hampered it. Moving to the fairgrounds has taken care of those problems, and the festival should become stronger, she said.

She already has plans for the future.

"I would like to see more educational expansion," said Jackson, who has been the event's chairwoman for 16 years. "It would be great if we had food and other things from Gambia, Nigeria. ... Part of Kunta Kinte is about growth. It's expanding everybody's horizons."

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