Grass roots family event to be held July 17 and 18 at Washington Park
Using a grass roots approach with an emphasis on African Culture, the organizers of the resurrected Afro Fest hope to inspire unity, family and cooperation in festival-goers July 17 and 18 at Washington Park.
Michael Brox, founder of the original Afro Fest—which later became African World Festival—said in an interview Thursday that the goal of the re-born festival is to break the cycle of self-hate 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: Darryl Carter, who is responsible for media and public relations for the festival; Bunny Lambert, who heads the dry goods vendors committee, Malcolm Hunt, a former Milwaukee Police officer, who is in charge of security and entertainment; chef and caterer Greg “Gumbo Man” Johnson, who is responsible for organizing the festival’s food vendors.
Hunt, who 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. “Instead of drug dealers talking to youth, we need lawyers, doctors and more professional business adults reaching out to them,” 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 able to run the event while doing positive for the community.
Lambert concurred, adding another reason to hold the festival in the community 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 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 have an even bigger plan than resurrecting a festival. They hope Afro Fest 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.
Brox and the festival’s organizers are excited about the activities slated for the event, noting it will be hard for anyone attending to say there was nothing to do at Afro Fest.
On Saturday, July 17, there will be a traditional African opening ceremony, a basketball tournament pitting the Milwaukee Police, Milwaukee County Sheriffs and Milwaukee Fire departments and the Afro Fest All-Stars against each other; clowns for the children, photography (children and adults can have their picture taken with the clowns) and face painting.
Additionally, Black Civil War re-enactors representing the 29th Colored Infantry will recreate—wearing the uniforms and using the weapons of that period—a battle that the era’s original Black soldiers era fought in 1863. Brox called the reenactment a “history lesson” for the kids.
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 head Johnson.
Sunday, July 18, 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. Pastor Lovelace Redmond will deliver the keynote sermon.
Many observers wonder why there will be two Black festivals: Afro Fest and African World Festival (AWF), which will be held for the first time in two years on the Summerfest grounds on the lakefront July 31.
“We can never have enough culture within ourselves,” Brox said when asked about his festival and African World Festival competing for the community’s attention.
Brox feels Afro Fest is really in competition with itself and feels no pressure to try and ‘one-up’ African World Festival.
Brox and the committee said 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,” Brox said, adding that unlike AWF, Afro Fest will be in the community.
“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.
Down the road, Brox hopes to establish a beneficial relationship with African World Festival and its organizers that might lead to both festivals becoming one.
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.
Asked where they hope the festival would be in 10 years, Brox and the committee-members see their festival becoming international. “But, then again, we’re already international,” Brox said.
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.