AFRAM is a festival by, for and about the collective unity of black people. However, the Baltimore festival this year fell short of a celebration of African American culture as a whole. It lacked colors, decorations and themes with any indicia of our heritage, culture, pride and unity. Only a bleak few of the vendors, almost all of whom were black, displayed the black unity flag or colors: red, black and green — symbolizing African blood shed for liberty, skin color throughout the diaspora and the rich vegetation of the motherland. Instead, rainbow colors associated with LGBTQ rights reigned.
We have been deprived culturally, economically and socially by our leadership for far too long. This was another example of how disrespectfully we are treated. This year’s AFRAM was a golden opportunity missed, and it was incumbent upon organizers to set the tone for the event.
For a city where the greatest abolitionist ever, Frederick Douglass, once lived; a city that is 63% black; a city with an African American mayor and City Council president and majority African American City Council; a city with an African American state’s attorney, police commissioner and comptroller, Baltimore should have made a much better representation at its only festival celebrating black culture.
And organizers should have commemorated the historic 1619-2019 event with griots, African storytellers, from the Griots Circle of Maryland to further affirm blacks’ — specifically American descendants of slaves — rightful place, origins and contributions to the founding of this country, while bridging us back to the motherland. Notable black teachers, authors, educators, scholars and historians should have presented workshops, seminars, reenactments, etc. that embody the black experience, accomplishments and legacy in America. There should have been prayer and reflection, with musicians representing cultural and gospel art form throughout the diaspora to both commemorate, entertain and heal. These all were lacking both days of the festival. The entertainers, though well known, consisted mainly of contemporary R&B artists.
Baltimore AFRAM organizers could have easily taken a cue from other area annual black festivals. Annapolis’ 30th Annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival’s invitation boasts earth tone colors symbolic of African culture and proudly displays African artwork to welcome guests. Baltimore County’s 23rd Annual African American Cultural Festival’s invite beams burnt yellow and rust, aptly signifying the first day of fall. Maryland’s Pan African Festival’s website boasts African artifacts, instruments and art with Africa as a backdrop. Hampton, Va. devoted a full weekend, August 23-25, to commemorate 400 years since 20 Africans arrived and were sold for free labor and supplies.
Rest assured that rainbow colors did not predominate at these black festivities. Why so in Baltimore? No one seems to know or care; my emails to the organizers and the mayor have gone unheeded.
It is said that, people perish for lack of knowledge. Black children need to be repeatedly taught and shown black heritage, history, culture, pride and love in order to gain a greater understanding of themselves. This is our obligation; we cannot rely solely upon the Baltimore City School System to do it. Slavery is mistaught, if at all, in America’s schools. Throughout my educational career, I was not realistically taught much about this pivotal event in history (as well as many others). Unless we are aware of our history, culture and heritage, than we will further languish in the background.
It is also said that, he who does not know his history is doomed to repeat it. There is no question that some of our youth are grappling for a sense of identity. What is more, they are acting out their lack of self awareness in self destructive ways affecting those of us around them. I highly recommend that Baltimore City Government establish an African American Commission to help infuse, incorporate and focus solely on black culture, history, consciousness, awareness and pride into policies, events and activities, particularly AFRAM. I am confident that this can only help turn the tide of violence within our city. Our children are black first and without a solid foundation, they will be lost.