District of Columbia residents and other visitors were treated to the sounds, tastes and sights of Africa last Saturday afternoon at an event sponsored by the District's Office on African Affairs [OAA].
Under clear blue skies and balmy 70-degree weather, hundreds of people strolled around the grounds of Banneker Field, adjacent to Howard University in Northwest, throughout the day of Sept. 29, soaking up the culture during the 3rd annual DC Africa Festival.
"This is a beautiful, enjoyable event," said Gregory Jackson, 60, who lives in Northwest. "I'm glad that the city has an event like this that recognizes people of different cultures. Throughout our lives, we're only taught very few things about where we originated. But this event gives us a better perspective [of who] and what we represent."
OAA officials successfully immersed festival-goers into a colorful and festive entrée of African history and culture. The festival, which was free to the public, featured traditional and modern African music; folklore; vendors selling a melange of arts and crafts, including jewelry, bracelets and necklaces; African food; a wellness pavilion replete with primarily West African motifs; children's activities; and an African fashion show highlighting the sartorial splendor of the African Diaspora.
Six pavilions featured attractions and booths from District agencies and local African vendors who promoted everything from healthy eating and wellness, to voter registration. Guests milled about the field and stopped to enjoy traditional African cuisine as the smell of chicken marinated in lemon and beef in cabbage and peanut sauce teased their palates. Some guests perused vendors' displays of traditional African art, while others talked with representatives from the Embassy of Cote d'Ivoire – a West African country.
Popular African music emanated from the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation's huge traveling soundstage – set up behind the baseball field's home plate.
OAA officials said the festival honors the burgeoning tradition of celebrating African culture while emphasizing the considerable contributions and vibrant presence of the African community in the District.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 150,000 Africans born on the continent live in the city and the surrounding Washington metropolitan area.
Fox 5 Anchor Maureen Umeh who served as master of ceremonies, welcomed guests and encouraged them to take advantage of the unique experience.
Nicole Morman's two daughters, ages five and nine, grabbed their mother's hand and whisked her over to the Children's Village where children waited patiently to have their faces adorned with beautiful colors and fanciful shapes and images. In addition, children were encouraged to cast their ballot in a mock voting booth. And little girls had an opportunity to be fitted for cloth head wraps.
Morman learned of the event through a website online, but didn't tell her daughters. She said that they wouldn't have been able to contain their excitement. As the two girls waited to have their faces painted, Morman noted the event's impact on them.
"It's important because I want them to know about their ancestors, what they wore and things they ate," said Morman, 32, who lives in Ft. Belvoir, Va. "[Their father] and I try to make sure that they're well rounded in all things, but it's really important for them to know where they came from and originated because they ask all the time."
As the afternoon progressed, the crowd grew as curious passersby who attended Howard's home football game started to file through the gate. The event's music and festive atmosphere grabbed the attention of Howard sophomore Imani Myton.
"I originally stopped by because my mom usually takes me to things like this in St. Louis," the 19-year-old marketing major said. "But this is unique. The booths are a lot more Afrocentric, which I'm excited about. This is my first specifically African festival. It's really unique, I like it," she said with a smile.
See Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g6y8utfZsA&;feature=plcp