by Leon Todd
Afro Fest 2011 at the Washington Park Band Shell is the place to be this weekend, July 23-24, to experience a weekend of free family fun, community culture and the traditional array of African and Soul Food to delight your pallet.
Unity, Family and Culture will be emphasized at Washington Park when Afro Fest makes its triumphant annual return. The event is free to the public and all are welcome to this family oriented gala. Enter the Band Shell Grounds off Lloyd Street, just west of 49th Street.
There will be a traditional African opening ceremony; a basketball tournament between the Milwaukee area law enforcement agencies, the fire department and the Afro Fest All-Stars; children’s activities, a Civil War reenactment, an African Marketplace, food and “Sermon In the Park” on Sunday, which will include praise dancing and preaching.
Using a grass roots approach to community organizing and involvement, with an emphasis on African Culture, the theme of Afro Fest is organized to inspire unity, family and cooperation in festival-goers.
Michael Brox, founder of the original Afro Fest said in an interview Tuesday that the goal of the community festival once again is to break the cycle of self-hate and despair among our people and have us look upon each other as family in an atmosphere of self-love and respect.
Brox was joined by several members of the Afro Fest committee who are in charge of various aspects of the festival: Bunny Lambert heads the dry goods vendors committee, Malcolm Hunt, a former Milwaukee Police officer, is in charge of security and entertainment; chef and caterer Greg “Gumbo Man” Johnson, is responsible for a delicious festival Gumbo spread and Leon Todd has coordinated media and public relations for the festival.
Hunt, who once again stressed the importance of bringing the community and churches together to deal with many of the community’s problems, feels this festival can be a launching pad in that effort of community unity for peace, positive parenting and employment.
“Instead of drug dealers talking to youth, we need lawyers, doctors and more professional business adults reaching out to our children,” he said. Not only does he want the festival to create a “synergy of unity in the community,” Brox, a retired MPS teacher, added the festival is also a “young people’s event.” Brox wants young people to be involved in running the event while making a positive contribution for the community.
Lambert has spoken up in the past that another reason to hold the festival in a community park was to make its residents “look at each other as family. Blacks in the community need to acknowledge one another and embrace one another.”
Lambert has also stressed the need for more mentorship by elder men and women in the community. “It would be a great way to let youth know there is a way out.”
The organizers retain their strategic goal for the festival which they hope serves as a catalyst for the construction of a African Community Center built by African Americans in the heart of the African American community that will have a state-of-the-art auditorium, business offices and a recording studio. Let’s make it happened, Lambert reiterated.
Brox and the festival’s organizers are excited about the activities slated for the event and ask you to check out the slate of events programmed around the Washington Park Band Shell.
There will be an African Marketplace where vendors will be on hand to sell their wares, such as authentic African artifacts, clothing, jewelry and other items. A number of informational booths will be manned by representatives of community-based organizations, businesses, and professionals such as attorneys and those in the health care field.
The Washington Park band shell will be the festivals entertainment hub with various local acts participating. There will also be a children’s stage.
No festival is complete without food and there will be plenty of that at Afro Fest, thanks to caterer and food vendor committee. Sunday, July 24, starting at 12 noon will be the festival’s “Sermon In The Park” with a host of choirs from various city churches, soloists, praise dancing and preaching.
Brox and the committee stressed Afro Fest is a grass-roots community effort that is free and open to the public. “We’re aiming at a more family oriented festival.”
“Some people in the inner-city can’t afford the downtown festivals, which makes Afro Fest unique and more beneficial for all the people in the community to attend because it is free,” Brox said. “In some cases, a lot of older adults decide not to attend festivals or leave early because of all the activity that teenagers bring. Afro Fest is striving for a safe environment for all ages and making sure that there will always be something to do, whether its face painting or watching the basketball tournament,” Brox said.
Brox thanked the community for helping make Afro Fest possible with their volunteering and donations at various festival-sponsored events.
“Now it’s the business community’s turn to step-up to the plate” with donations and/or their participation, Brox stressed.
For more information about the festival, call Michael Brox at 414-748-1111. Those wishing to make donations to the festival can send them in care of: c/o Afro Fest Inc., P.O. Box 080071, Milwaukee, WI, 53208.