As the organizers of the second annual D.C. Pan-African Festival gear up for another afternoon of culture, music and reasoning, thoughts pivot toward the future of a D.C. that’s no longer mostly Black and without the cohesion that made past gatherings much easier to execute.
Despite the changes, the 40- and 50-somethings who have taken the mantle in community leadership said they want to create a means by which people of African descent can celebrate, and adhere to, the Nguzo Saba, also known as the seven principles of Kwanzaa, throughout the year.
“The D.C. Pan-African Festival is bringing back a time when we celebrated with each other and the artistry of being African,” said Thea Browne-Dennis, owner of Asli Pure Natural Body Care in Mt. Rainier, Maryland, and chair of the Leadership Council for Pan-African Nationalism (LCPAN).
“It took at least three years to bring this to fruition,” Browne-Dennis said. “We have some musical selections and other organizations sharing and talking about their work. This is a time to be in solidarity. The point of being in the community is to be supportive of one another. Creating space is critical.”
On July 13, Africans of various ethnicities will gather at 1325 Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast to relish in the sounds of Bomani Armah, Ka’Ba the Soul Singer, Kuumba Kids, Ras Lidj, and Deep Band, Anjahla Benjamin and other artists of the Diaspora. Vendors of various ages will sell their wares as a show of how to maintain economic independence throughout the generations.
Guest speakers include Kelechi Egwim of APPEAL, Inc. and Baba Mosi Matsimela of the UNIA-ACL Division 330.
This cultural event builds upon the Nguzo Saba Festival, a 1970s relic that brought members of D.C.’s Pan-African community, specifically the African-centered schools and spiritual houses, to Banneker Field on Georgia Avenue for a celebration of the Nguzo Saba. This gathering would go on for more than 20 summers.
Malandela Zulu, a D.C.-based artist and educator and son of Dr. El Senzengakulu Zulu, founder of the Ujamaa Shule Afrikan-Centered School and key organizer of the Nguzo Saba Festival, counted among the D.C. Pan-African Festival’s key proponents, out of what he described as a desire to reverse the effects of mass displacement.
“Gentrification popped off and is very rampant — our people are losing who we are,” said Zulu, also founder of the Zulusoul Gear clothing line. “We celebrate Kwanzaa but I think it’s important to have these types of festivals because folks don’t get this knowledge in the public school system. The D.C. Pan-African Festival is an outlet to let people know about themselves and getting young people involved. It starts with us as individuals.”