By Edward Henderson

On Friday, February 25th, San Diego Kuumba Fest opened is 25th annual celebration at the San Diego Repertory Theater. ‘Black to Power: Body, Mind, Spirit’ was this year’s theme. The three-day festival included traditional African art and pageantry, drama, educational workshops, community leadership awards, an African marketplace, health fair, and powerful guest speakers. The goal of Kuumba Fest is to create an urban performing artist community advocating for self-determination and discipline trough artistic experiences.

Friday’s ‘Night of Positive Images’ opened with the African Marketplace selling traditional food, clothing and jewelry inspired by the region. Attendees later filed into the theatre to witness The Royal Court Awards Ceremony, which honored community members who embodied leadership, service and internal growth. Rashan Guillory and Chris Jefferson served as Emcees for the night.

Before the awards began, a Parade of History was held with actors embodying powerful Pharaohs and Kings and Queens of color throughout history. The historical characters portrayed dated all the way back to indigenous men and women with monologues describing their accomplishments and mindsets.

The final award of the evening went to keynote speaker Dr. Sonia Sanchez. The poet, educator and activist was introduced by 79th District Assembly Member Dr. Shirley Weber. Dr. Sanchez braved a cold she was fighting to deliver a poignant talk infusing poetry, storytelling and extemporaneous stream of consciousness on current events.

A highlight came when Dr. Sanchez told a story about a mother prompting her two young sons Kojo and Kofi to cut the lawn for her. If they did it well, the mother would bring back a gift from the bank. Kofi cut the grass, while Kojo relaxed on the porch making a sound and whipping his forehead for each piece of grass cut. When the mother returned, she offered a reward for both after hearing the story of what happened while she was gone. She dropped five silver dollars on the kitchen table and said, ‘the sound of the coins is for you Kojo, but Kofi, you pick up the coins’.

“We always hear people making the sound about the work, but there are actual people doing the work,” said Dr. Sanchez. “They do the work thoroughly and quite often never get the credit. When I saw the young brothers and sisters get awarded tonight I thought to myself ‘these are the people who do the work’.

In an interesting turn of events, Jefferson took the stage with his co-host Guillory and proposed to her in the middle of the event, prompting cheers from the audience.

The evening closed with the debut of the play ‘Black to Inspire’. The production detailed covert action in the community to groom leaders and shapers of the movement, to raise our levels of awareness of Black collective energy and power.

Dajan A. Blevins, the lead organizer of Kuumba Fest, has worked with the celebration since its inception and received an award of his own, the Dr. Floyd Gafney Legacy Award, named after his drama teacher growing up.

“Because he was my friend, drama teacher, mentor and instigator for me to use the arts for empowerment, it was powerful, confirming and emotional for me all at the same time,” said Blevins. “All 2017 we will push that the struggle isn’t over so let’s get in place and get to work.”

Fundraising has already begun for next year’s Kuumba Fest which will be entitled: Black 2 Positions (Trust & Respect). Visit kuumbafest.com to make a $10 monthly pledge towards the festivities.

 

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