Welcome back African World Festival
“Yes, I believe in miracles, yahoo miracles and Black people I believe in you…”
It brought tears to my eyes to see all the black beautiful faces of my community back on the lakefront once again, even if it was for one day.
Ya’ll know I-Witness loves African World Festival. Since it is inception in 1982, I have only missed two. It was known as the “Meeting Place” where one could find me, every first weekend in August. I went all three days from noon to midnight and I always hated when Sunday came because I knew I had to wait a whole year before I could sit on the shores of the great Lake Michigan and be with great people having a good time.
As you know due to financial difficulties we haven’t had an African World Festival for the last two years.
But through the diligence of folks like Bathena Webber, all the volunteers like Anita and others who have volunteered for African World Festival since its inception, Gloria Miller, Michelle Bryant, Martha Love, Margaret Henningsen, Don Sykes, Charlotte Cannon-Sain under the leadership of the talented Mark Wade, Black media, (including the Community Journal) many Black churches, and last but not least our wonderful community who joined hands with African World Festival and said, “Oh Yes, We can can, can, why can’t we, if we wanna yes, we can, can!”
The energy that the AWF Board and our community brought around the festival bonded in one spirit putting it in favor with our Creator.
Still a bit under the weather, I knew I had to go to African World Festival if only for a minute. (I was told I could only stay for a couple hours. My sister, Shirley was with me to make sure I stayed for only an hour, Holla!)
I-Witness was so excited. I was like a kid going to the carnival. The first person I saw was State Rep. Polly Williams and Carol Steigo working like busy bees. Then I ran into Devon Reid of Status Night Club.
Next was DeAnna Rae Gauthier, a sophomore at Marquette University, majoring in Criminology and Law Studies. This year, Gauthier was a recipient of the African World Festival Scholarship and the Community Journal’s Dr. Terrance Thomas Scholarship. You go gurlll!
Of course, the first place I-Witness went to was to the vendor’s garden—the market place where I had to pick up a few things. Holla!
Here I saw I-Witness Hero Dexter Brown, a nurse who came to the aid of a young man who attempted suicide a year ago on North Avenue. Then there was Princess Sills, Joyce McCrary, Renita M Switzer, Lori Wynn, Kai Smith, and Wanda Montgomery of Children Service Society of Wisconsin, which was also one of the sponsors of this year’s festival.
The Black Catholics opened the festival with their annual “African Mass” service. Even in the two years there was no African World Festival, the Black Catholics would still come to the Summerfest grounds on African World Festival weekend and hold the “African Mass” Service with a closing prayer asking the Creator to shine favor on these grounds, so that African World Festival would rise again.
I had to get some ice-cold lemonade and find the Ensley Brown’s Ham House window for some of that good old catfish!
I found my editor, Tom Mitchell and his wife, Clarene sitting right next to Brown’s fish place. I was so glad to see them. We chatted until they told me I needed to get a head start for the program.
As I headed over to the Miller stage, many began to come over to greet me and wish me a speedy recovery. I-Witness was shown much love, received lots of hugs and kisses. Even my favorite editor gave me a big hug. Holla!
Folks were beginning to come from everywhere. The grounds were filling up.
And my heart was swelling with pride!
The Miller/Coors Stage hosted the opening program and almost all the elected officials were there; State Senator Lena Taylor, County Supervisors Willie Johnson, Johnny Thomas, Milwaukee Aldermen Mileli Coggs, Willie Wade, Council President Willie Hines, Wisconsin State Reps. Leon Young, Barbara Toles, U.S. Senator Feingold and the ever popular U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore who was cheered as she was introduced.
Mark Wade, chair of African World Festival, opened with, “Welcome Back to African World Festival!” The crowd stood and cheered! Continued Wade: “We are excited and thankful to all of you. He thanked all the sponsors for all their support.”
Wade gave a special thank you for the assistance of the other festivals that shared the lakefront festival grounds. He noted that representatives of the other festivals not only offered to help but followed through by doing what ever they could to make sure African World Festival came back.
Wade told young people in the audience—young and old—to enjoy the festival and come together so that it is never absent from the lakefront again. “This is a community festival. It belongs to all of us.” Then he gave a “Holla-out” to his mama, telling her not once, but twice, “I love you.” I loved it!
Congresswoman Moore gave a spiritual blessing to the festival. As she came to the microphone, the crowd cheered her. Cong. Moore told the gathering that the Motherland—Africa—was ready for the world stage; and like Africa, African World Festival is set to take its rightful place among the plethora of festivals that make Milwaukee the “City of Festivals.”
Moore thanked Mark Wade, the African World Festival Board and Michelle Bryant for all the hard work they have done.
She then had us join her in prayer and remembrance of all those who took the journey to America, surviving and living through some of the worst times known to human kind. There was a moment of silence in honor and tribute to our Creator, to all those who came before us. To all those present and all those yet to come. Afterward, the African garbed congresswoman broke out in an African dance.
Miss Juneteenth 2010, Shelby Sinclair and her court greeted the crowd. Sinclair who attends University High School shared with us that she believes we can foster peace through understanding. Then the talented young lady spoke her words in Spanish. She was awesome.
Alderman Wade presented African World Festival with a proclamation, proclaiming it to be African World Festival Day all over the city of Milwaukee.
Several years ago, African World Festival was put in a bad light because there was a shooting on the grounds. The major media has never let us or those outside of our community forget it. Over the years they have always reminded the whole world of that one time incident. With the major media bringing up the shooting every year, many people became afraid to come to our festival, even other black people. Though there wasn’t an incident like that since, many people used it as a reason not to attend or support our festival.
Ya’ll know the Creator has African World Festival in his favor. As if it wasn’t emotional enough seeing the festival rise again; one of the most powerful moments I have ever seen occurred when Gregory Bowers, the young man who shot at another festivalgoer back in the mid-90s came on stage and officially apologized for his actions and the negative affect it had on the festival.
“I have my children with me and I’ve changed my life. I’m not perfect by any means. But I know I have to apologize to all of you for my actions. Thank you,” Bowers said. Some people had tears in their eyes; others cheered while others hugged the young man. Yes, tears were in my eyes too, because I saw hope.
Bowers did four years in jail for the AWF shooting. Though no one was injured, our spirits were at the time. Bowers is married now and works for a construction company.
He has two boys and another child on the way. I asked him what turned it around for him. He pointed to his eldest son and said him. “When I went to jail, he was a little one and then I see him now and all the years I’ve missed of his life.” Bowers also gives back to the community by working with youth.
Bowers said he went to the African World Festival office to volunteer to help the festival. “Eventually, I shared with Michelle who I was and told her I wanted to try to volunteer and help as a way to apologize to African World Festival and my community for what I had done in the past.”
Ya’ll, this was too emotional for me. Tears kept welling in my eyes. I saw love and hope that day, and it’s the reason I will never, never give up on our young people. I know as they move closer to the Creator, he will shine favor upon them even in their darkest moments.
It took a lot of courage for Bowers—in front of his two sons, Gregory II and Camryn—to come forward and admit what he did over a decade ago, as well as to ask for forgiveness as he, African World Festival and his community did reconciliation. We know he has had his Rites of Passage; he has become a man now. I cried.
Thelma Sias of WE Energies came out and fired up the festivalgoers. She stated we can be knocked down, but we know how to get up and come back.
I headed back to Brown’s Ham House for my fish. Ya’ll know Mr. B. brought me some catfish out and it was so goooood!
I think I saw everybody in the city. Paramount Chief Reuben Harpole, Elaine Bridges, Sherry Allison, Milwaukee County Supervisor Michael Mayo, CYD board member Robert Spindell, Tony and Zakia Courtney, Milwaukee Bucks PR Director Skip Robinson and his family, Greg Martin of Lena’s Food Market and his family, and Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway and his wife Lynda.
There was so much going on. Odell the BBQ King, had it really going on with the beans, ribs, BBQ pig feet (yup, BBQ pig feet! Holla!) and cornbread.
There was a great fun area for the children. Ya’ll are going to roll on the floor when I tell you who was getting dunked. Former mayor Marvin Pratt, in his shorts, taunting folks and boasting that they couldn’t dunk him in the water, I won’t tell ya’ll how many times he got dunked. Holla!
Then there was Milwaukee Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, who was looking hot, hot, hot, in those little swimming trunk. Choosing to be sexy and be the man everyone wanted to dunk. Holla!
Radio and Internet personalities D. Rock and Hommmer Blow had the place rocking.
Folks were still coming in loads. Several stopped over at my table in the shade, Marq Elevers, Wilford Sanders, Queen Mother Lucille Berrien, Kathy Cotton, Larry and Maxine Jeter, Music producer Dante Chestnut, Sr. Byron and Beverly Desmon, Arlissa McHenry, Pretty Ben Watson, Shirley Warren, Glen Mattison, Fred Gordon, Mr. Wonderful (Gee) and Alta, Janice Winfrey, Laurie Grayson, Ptosha, Vanessa Simmons and Massage therapist Askia Haney.
Al Spears sat with me for a while. He had me rolling. Okay, Ald. Wade chose not to be sexy in the dunk tank. He had a bit of bad luck. Of all the folks trying to dunk him, the alderman was finally done in by his son Mathew.
I-Witness had to call it a day, forcing me to miss the great entertainment they had lined up like the talented Joe Jordan and Charlie Wilson. They told me later that Charlie showed out!
Hey African World Festival and all those involved in resurrecting you. I am speechless and proud. I thank you for all your hard work. But more importantly, I thank you for calling on the spirits of our ancestors. Ya’ll took that spirit of strength and resilience and passed it throughout our community and we heard your cries and saw your hard work.
It just goes to shows when black people feel like they have ownership and voice and feel it’s in the best interest of our community; they will show up and start making everyone believe in miracles. All of your hard work showed the true history of creativity, strength and resilience of Black people in America.
We are always counted out and sometimes we even count ourselves out. But this year, after all that praying the Black Catholics did for the last two years, all your hard work, our community embracing the festival and the brave sponsors who stood with the festival, we once again heard the drummer’s beat, as the African Mask begins it’s dance in the universe, headed to the festival grounds where the Creator showed up and showed out, spreading favor all over the land. Great Job!
Ya’ll know I can’t wait until next year, “Because I believe in miracles, yahoo miracles and I believe in Black People!” Asante’ Sana-Atten-tion Salute!
August 19, 2012 //
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