BY BOBBY BRIER
A new festival celebrating African heritage and culture will kick off this weekend in Scranton.
The inaugural African Heritage Festival will take place on Saturday, Aug. 28, from noon to 10 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 29, from noon to 7 p.m. The event will be on the land located behind the Salvation Army, 500 S. Washington Ave.
NEPA Pan-African Coalition will run the event, and its sister organization, NEPA Black Chamber of Commerce, will sponsor it. Rashida Lovely, director of operations for both NEPA Black Chamber of Commerce and NEPA Pan-African Coalition, helped to excavate the land to prepare it for the festival, which included removing trees and garbage.
“We want to treat the land so that when everybody comes, it’s easy and it’s accessible and everybody can have a nice, good, safe time,” Lovely said.
The festival will encompass a wide variety of activities and events.
Some of the attractions will include food contests, raffle baskets and carnival games. Traveling museums will feature African masks from Kenya and other countries as well as artwork, and an interactive walking path will focus on the Underground Railroad and the pivotal role Pennsylvania played in it. Both are suitable for all ages. Guests also can peruse a retail tent filled with apparel and more. Meanwhile, vendors from the NEPA Black Chamber of Commerce will be on hand to discuss life insurance and Medicare.
Food vendors including Johnnie’s Food Truck, Twisted Burgerz N Wrapz and Carline’s Cheesecakes will be at the festival. There also will be a petting zoo on Sunday provided by the Lehigh Valley-based MSGLV Farms. The festival also will include entertainment from local and out-of-town musicians. Singers, rappers and dancers from Lovely’s business, Scranton-based Newave Studios, will perform along with eight DJs over the weekend. Hip-hop and spoken word artist Jay Thrilla of Atlanta will headline the event.
“This is about celebrating our different ethnicities,” Lovely said. “So, you know, we’re not a monolith. We’re made of different countries and different cultures, and so we want to highlight that.”
Lovely said one of the biggest parts of the event are costume contests where people will show off their ethnicities and cultures. There will be separate contests for children and adults to display their pride and to demonstrate that no one is more important than the other.
“We’re all equally as important, and we should all equally be celebrated,” Lovely added.
“This festival is going to celebrate African culture across the diaspora, so across the world,” Lovely said. “And that’s pretty important for us, you know. Celebrating that … helps with self-esteem of the community. You know, sometimes folks who feel marginalized don’t feel like there’s something that celebrates them. So we want to bring that to the area.”
Lovely and the organizers of the event wanted to make sure that all of the attractions and entertainment were Afrocentric. All of the participants are of African descent, and a majority are local, Lovely added. The free, family-friendly festival hopes to attract adults on Saturday and kids on Sunday with the one-day-only petting zoo.
David Griggs, an organizer for the festival and a steering committee member of the NEPA Black Chamber of Commerce, has also been working on the festival.
“(We’ve) got a … lot of ways of being able to create something that’s never really been here before for the community, for the people like me and people of color,” he said. “Maybe through this unity we get to know a lot of people in this community and we can just start working to … change things (that have) happened around here,” Griggs added.
For Shaneke Miles, the event planner for the festival, the importance of having the upcoming event in Scranton is “to bring the Black community together.”
“So other people … identify, especially young kids, … that there are Black businesses out here, there are other cultures out here. Not just seeing the Italian festival, the Spanish festival. Now you’re seeing the first African festival,” Miles added.
Lovely added that the goal of the festival for the future is to move it around so that it does not stay in Scranton, necessarily, but connects the whole Northeast Pennsylvania region.
“One of the most important things for us is to show the communities of color that you don’t really have to rely on others to do the things that you want to do,” Lovely said. “So we want to show self-reliance in the process. So you know, this is a venture that we are funding, that we’re operating. The land is private, it’s our own. So this just shows them, if you want to do something, you don’t need a whole lot of help. You just need to get your hands dirty, do the work and create it yourself.”
Contact the writer: email@example.com; 570-348-9127
Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest