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Afrofest began a few years before I came to Milwaukee. By the time I arrived in 1986 it was no longer and I was introduced to African World Festival (AWF). At the first festival I attended, I was so impressed with the idea of an African festival and made a decision to commit to the occasion and attend each year. I work as a secretary, so you know I don’t make a lot of money, but this was important, I knew that I would sacrifice to take my daughter to this event that was for people of African descent. A festival for African people, what a novel idea, I thought.
My initial disappointment began soon after when I discovered that there was very little to learn about the continent of Africa and the many countries therein. Outside of the vendors from a couple of countries in Africa hawking their wares, trying to outdo one another, the different food vendors, few of them, if any, serving African cuisine, I thought to myself, is this it?. I didn’t feel a connection, I felt like a tourist. I was disappointed even more when I learned that no special accommodations were made for local vendors and the fees for locals were as astronomical as the ones for vendors who would get our money and not recycle the dollars they received from us back with us here in the City of Milwaukee. The problems that arose from violent outbursts caused me to not want to be there after dark and I began to only come for the opening ceremony, leaving shortly after I had looked at the same items from vendor to vendor.
Still the biggest disappointment was the history I learned of its conception, the deception and then its demise. I thought this opportunity for people of African descent to support their own festival was literally being squandered. It was supported but not by the people for the most part, but by organizations, some with 501(c)(3)s who gave huge donations to the festival to keep it afloat, whose funding came from the federal government. That money was supposed, I thought, to be used to help the people, not fund a festival. This is not to take away from those of us who would pay for a ticket, but I thought too many FREE tickets were given away.
Sometimes I think Milwaukee has a patronizing mentality of poverty, especially when it comes to Black people. It appears that the idea planted in the minds of Black Milwaukeans and their “caregivers”, is that Black Milwaukeans are so poor and in need, they can’t support something that should be an object of pride for THEM. That is a flat-out lie. As I looked at the cars, new and older models sporting rims that cost thousands of dollars, stereo systems that should have been in an amphitheatre, diamond crusted rings and crosses around necks, high priced tennis shoes and other fly gear, I know it was and still is a lie. It was not a matter of can’t, it was a matter of won’t. And why should they, when so many FREE tickets, backed by that very ideology was floating around?
It seemed to me that money that could have been gained from those FREE tickets would have been better spent in the marketing of the Festival in a way that would have instilled pride in the people. Enough pride to actually support it with their dollars and conduct themselves as proud African descended people. Proud to be Black and of African descent..Isn’t that something? And it is this writer’s opinion that this could have actually happened had it not been for the attitude of the liberal minded, paternalistic culture here of what Black people cannot and will not do. The proof that the capital exists is on the backs, feet, necks and filled parking lots at the local Wal-Mart stores. Still with the announcement of its resurgence, I hope that someone reads this blog and takes heed.
Now, we have a second chance to enjoy AfroFest. The origin of this festival and concept that was its birth is reborn. And though I am not seeing competition with AWF, I am going by the love I feel in the planning room of this Festival. The team of hard workers are huddled to make Afrofest a reality once again and to not make the mistake that went the way of African World Festival. This will be a celebration of music, food, and culture on Saturday and Sunday, July 17-18, 2010 at the centrally located Washington Park, which is minutes from Miller Park, the North Shore and western suburbs. Most importantly, it is in the Black Community and will be FREE to the community. The people who have volunteered their talent and time to make this happen are phenomenal and infectious.
I don’t expect to learn much about Africa at this festival, but I do expect to come together with other people of African descent and love and enjoy each in peace and love. Just having a good time with Black folks is what I am looking forward to. It is a new beginning and I definitely look forward to working to make that happen. So I encourage you to support Afrofest and I hope to see you there on the grounds of Washington Park. I will be behind my jewelry table in the vending area. PEACE