AFRAM board fires 2 officers; Former director says he resigned after hearing of dismissal; $25,000 in pending bills; No scholarships given; signmakers, workers not paid


The board of directors of the nonprofit organization that runs AFRAM, Baltimore's largest ethnic festival, has dismissed its acting executive director and accountant after the festival ended up with poor attendance and overdue bills, according to the former employees.

Norman Ross, one of the founders of AFRAM 23 years ago, is the second executive director to leave the group in several months.

His departure occurs after AFRAM attracted about 11,000 paid visitors over three days in August, according to officials at Pimlico Race Course in Northwest Baltimore, where the festival was held. That's a tenth of the attendance hoped for by AFRAM's volunteer steering committee.

As a result of that poor performance and sales that were lower than hoped for at an earlier fund-raising event, AFRAM has not given out the dozen college scholarships it usually awards at the festival each year.

Also fired was Jannell Rogers, the organization's part-time accountant.

Lloyd Mitchner, a longtime director of AFRAM Expo Inc., resigned three weeks before the festival, saying later that he thought it was heading for trouble. Corporate sponsorship money was coming in late, he said, and board members had taken over many functions from a steering committee of volunteers who historically had organized the event.

Ross, the retired director of the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center, said he had hoped those rifts could be healed at a meeting after this year's AFRAM.

But he said he was not invited to any more meetings.

"In effect, I understand I was fired at one of the board meetings," Ross said. "And since I didn't receive official word I resigned."

Beverly B. Carter, chairwoman of the AFRAM board, did not return telephone calls this week. Neither did treasurer Charlene Monts nor other board members.

Shortly after the festival, Carter said she was optimistic that AFRAM would break even.

And she said that awarding scholarships this year was less important than shoring up the scholarship program for the future with more events. She said she would like to attract a greater diversity of applicants and give them more than the $500 to $2,500 that 10 to 12 high school seniors each year typically have been awarded for college.

Rogers, who had worked part time for the organization for more than 10 years, said board members fired her last month, telling her they wanted Monts, the board treasurer, to handle all financial matters. "I guess they wanted to have a clean start," she said.

Wesley Johnson, a longtime member of the board and former chairman, said he, too, was left out of the latest meeting.

"I consider myself off the board," he said. "We built up 200 volunteers that look forward [to AFRAM] every year. We had a wonderful working relationship."

Ross said stagehands, sign makers and others who provided services for this year's festival haven't been paid. In his final report to Carter, he said he listed outstanding bills of about $25,000.

One of those on the list is graphic artist William McIlwain of East Baltimore, who said he is owed $1,100 for making signs -- the first time he's been owed money from AFRAM since he started doing work for the festival in 1983.

"It's been over two months," McIlwain said. "I haven't heard anything. No one's ever at the office. I'm going to have to sue. I have no other recourse."

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