Cleveland Brister was working for Baltimore's Model Cities program back in 1970 when he received an unusual request in connection with Soul Festival, a fledgling event that was being held at Hopkins Plaza.
"They said 'Cleve, you put a parade together.' Well, I did, and I've been doing that pretty much ever since," laughs Mr. Brister, the entertainment chairman -- and parade planner -- for AFRAM Expo '95, which grew from the Soul Festival and whose 19th annual edition is being held this weekend at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The parade steps off at 6 p.m. tomorrow from Marin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Eutaw Street and wends south on Eutaw to the AFRAM site, parking lots B and C of the stadium.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will lead the procession, which also includes the Morgan State University marching band and the Coppin State University baseball team.
Formal opening ceremonies are at 7 p.m. tomorrow, but the festival grounds open at noon. On hand throughout the weekend will be continuous entertainment on three stages -- the headliner is rhythm and blues singer Regina Belle, performing Sunday night -- a variety of food, and more than 200 vendors exhibiting crafts, clothing, artifacts and other items celebrating African-American culture.
Mr. Brister, 60, says he did not foresee his own continuous involvement in AFRAM with that first Soul Festival. But he did see the potential of such an event.
"Mr. Norman Ross started the first AFRAM in 1976, the bicentennial year, and it was immediately successful," says Mr. Brister, a career city employee who is now director of the Baltimore Neighborhood Recreation Facility in the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. "The thing I always liked about it, you've got people from all nationalities coming out."
The first AFRAM was held as part of the city's Festival of Nations, a summer-long series of ethnic festivals celebrating the city's diversity.
More than 100,000 people attended AFRAM '94, which was held at Camden Yards for the first time after seven years in Exhibition Hall. Planners hope for equal or larger crowds this year -- despite the fact that the event, which has always been held in early August, had to be moved back because of other events at the stadium.
"This is what I hoped it would become," says AFRAM founder Mr. Ross, who directs the Eubie Blake Cultural Center.
"When AFRAM started, it was something the African-American community was not used to, but today I think they see AFRAM as something they can point to and be proud of creating, to say it is something they own," says Mr. Ross, who is in charge of entertainment for the event's Small Stage and a new third entertainment stage, called the Showmobile.
Mr. Brister credits AFRAM's current director, Lloyd Mitchner, and its chairman, Wesley Johnson, with continuing the event's growth.
But he's happy to boast about this year's Main Stage entertainment lineup, which ranges from local acts such as the Sankofa Dance Theater, performing at 2 p.m. Saturday, to national groups performing in rhythm and blues, gospel and other styles.
"I guess you can say Regina Belle will close things out [at 8:30 p.m. Sunday], but I'm looking to Bobby Jones to really let this place out," he says of the gospel singer and his group, who perform at 6 p.m. Sunday.
Here are the evening performers scheduled on the Main Stage, sponsored by the Radio One network of local and Washington radio stations:
William Becton (gospel), 6 p.m.; Maysa Leak (a rhythm and blues performer and Morgan State grad), 7 p.m.; Monica (R&B;) and the SOS Band (oldies R&B;).
Mokenstef (R&B; with a rap flavor), 6 p.m.; Vibe (R&B;), 6:45 p.m.; Gary Taylor (R&B;), 7:30 p.m.; Wayman Tisdale 5th Quarter Band (jazz), 8:15 p.m. and Rose Royce (oldies R&B;), 9 p.m.
Bobby Jones and New Life (gospel), 6 p.m.; Adina Howard (R&B;), 7 p.m.; Solo (R&B;), 7:45 p.m. and Regina Belle (R&B;), 8:30 p.m.
AFRAM '95 has the subtitle "Saluting Our Greater Baltimore African American Communities: A Portrait of a People in the City by the Bay," which means it features themes highlighting successful community organizations. The festival also includes an exhibit on the Negro Baseball League and a children's area.
Mr. Brister also contends the success of AFRAM stems from "the safety factor," noting that despite its crowds the event has not suffered any serious security problems in its long existence.
A5 "This is a peace thing, a family thing," he says.
"AFRAM Expo '95"
When: Noon to 10 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday
Where: Parking lots B and C, Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Admission: $5 daily; children 6 and under free.
Parade: Starts at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Eutaw Street, then heads south on Eutaw.
+ Information: (410) 225-7896