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Kunta Kinte festival marks its 16th year

Though it has been nearly three decades since Roots first penetrated America's conscience about slavery, the name Kunta Kinte still resonates among people of African descent and many others.

Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that Maryland's annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival will mark its 16th celebration this year.

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The festival takes place Aug. 9 and 10 at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds in Crownsville. Billed as a family gala that fetes the heritage, music and cuisine of the African Diaspora, it honors the legacy of Kinte, an enslaved Gambian brought to Annapolis in 1767 aboard the Lord Ligonier. His personal and family saga, told by great-great-great- great-grandson Alex Haley in the epic novel Roots, won the Pulitzer Prize and was translated into 37 languages. In 1977, a mammoth television miniseries captured audiences and sparked a national interest in genealogy.

"We started with a small ceremony in 1987," said Leonard Blackshear, the event's original chairman and founder of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation, a nonprofit educational group. "By 1989, we had a small festival with about 1,000 people. The next year, we got a bigger location and have been growing ever since."

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Last year, the local and international crowd at St. John's College topped 20,000. This year, organizers say, a new location will accommodate even more people. The event will go on, rain or shine.

"All races come, and we have a wonderful time," says Renee Spears of Arnold, who has volunteered the past six years. "Many people are repeat attendees, and some build family reunions around the festival."

A wealth of activities set up African-village-style will keep everyone in the family busy. A children's area will feature mask-making, face painting and story-telling, while a family center offers workshops, book signings, health screenings and informational displays.

Vendors and artisans from all over the world will carry ethnic merchandise, clothing and accessories. All the items will be juried -- reviewed for cultural authenticity and historical value. Planned are plenty of ethnic foods and entertainment: jazz, African dance, gospel, blues, and Caribbean Steel bands.

The Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival is 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 9 and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 10 at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds, Route 178, Crownsville. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for seniors (ages 62 and older), $3 for children 4-12; kids younger than age 3 are free. For information, call 410-349-0038 or visit www .kuntakinte.org.


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