On September 24, 2016, over 1,000 people of all ages headed into Susan Campbell Park at the Annapolis City Dock to celebrate African-American history while seeing African dance performances, listening to eclectic music, sampling world foods, and patronizing artisan vendors at the 27th Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival.
More than 30 vendors, 30 volunteers, and six major sponsors— Maryland Live Casino, Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, Koons Annapolis Toyota, Comcast, William Reese & Sons Mortuary, and The City of Annapolis— contributed to the pivotal event that was held the same day that the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) opened approximately an hour away. Last year marked the return of the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival, after it was not held several years due to
budget challenges. However, steady gains made by the Kunta Kinte Festival Planning Committee indicate that efforts to further revive the popular cultural celebration are headed in a positive direction.
“We were so excited about the turnout of this year’s festival. More vendors participated, and more people came to the festival this year compared to last year. We also obtained more sponsors, so the support of the festival definitely increased,” Jan Lee, co-chair of the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival Planning Committee said.
She continued, “The most rewarding aspect of having the festival on the same day as the opening of the NMAAHC is that I believe it boosted the morale and spirit of those who wanted to celebrate our heritage. Those who could not make it to the District of Columbia celebrated with us, and we were honored to celebrate with those who could have gone to D.C. Additionally, we had a tour group attend the festival as they were planning to visit the D.C. museum on Sunday.”
Renee Spears, chair of the festival planning committee, was excited to see four buses pull up this year. Spears invited the out of town festivalgoers to enjoy the new experience, while imagining they were stepping into West Africa.
“They made the Kunta Kinte Festival part of their experience in Annapolis,” Spears said. “I was so excited to greet 200 wonderful guests from all over New York … and Trenton, New Jersey! After I gave them a brief history, they were off and running to the stage, the beautiful arts and crafts, and delicious foods.”
She added that most memorable festival moment was when Chris Haley, nephew of Alex Haley, the author who penned “Roots,” shared memories of his most recent trip to Africa with festival attendees. Haley’s ancestor, Kunta Kinte, arrived in Annapolis on the Lord Ligonier ship as an African slave in 1767.
“He [Chris] was very inspiring and captured and enlightened the audience,” Spears said.
Again this year, children were busy creating arts and crafts at the Children’s Activity Tent, organized by the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. An Annapolitan named Tony Jerome Spencer was the festival’s Artist in Residence. Spears explained that he was commissioned to present his “Seizing Power” series. The artist reportedly embraced the mission of the festival, enabling the Kunta Kinte Foundation to sell shirts, note cards and posters.
This year’s two Detective Shelley White Award recipients were Carlesa R. Finney— a family and community advocate for more than 30 years, and Priscilla Montague – a youth mentor, volunteer and founder of the Annapolis Drum and Bugle Corps. Shelley White, an Annapolis Police Department Detective who died in 2015, volunteered with the
Kunta Kinte Festival for many years and served as head of security.
The festival also included a way to honor individuals who exemplify the virtues highlighted on the Alex Haley monument’s Story Wall that is engraved with quotes along the Annapolis City Dock seawall. Spears said that Albert Feldstein received recognition for the virtue of diversity for creating a poster of message buttons about African-American history.
Next year, Spears will serve as the chair of the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival’s Board of Directors. Lee will be chair of the planning committee.
“We do plan to continue the tradition of the festival and have it again next year. We are in the process of rebuilding the Board of Directors, and we can always use more help on the planning committee,” Lee said. “With the continued support of the community, we will continue to grow and educate more people about their history.”