By Cillea Houghton
MEMPHIS, TN — Roughly 40,000 people are expected to attend the 31st annual Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival in Memphis. Vendor set up is on Thurs., April 20.
The festival was started by David and Yvonne Acey in 1986. David attended black studies conferences in the 1970s and 80s and the couple realized there was a void in the city of festivals honoring African-American culture, inspiring them to create Africa in April. The festival takes place April 21-23. Each year it brings dignitaries and ambassadors from other countries to Memphis, with many of the city’s council members participating.
“We just looked around at everybody else celebrating their culture and their ethnicity and we wanted to do something about it,” Executive Director David Acey said. “We said ‘let’s create something that would attract African-Americans to their history and culture.’”
This year’s festival, which David calls “totally international,” honors the African country of Togo. Vendors from across America and around the world bring clothes, jewelry, artwork and more to the international market. The arts are an important part of the event as well, with African drummers, stilt walkers and musicians from all genres participating.
Yvonne Acey, associate director, said she is in communication with the embassy in Washington, D.C to ensure that the honored country each year has a “positive connection” with the United States and must meet certain criteria in order to be selected. “We look into a country that we can honor for communication, networking and for collaboration, tourism and economic development,” she said. “So as we review the proposed country, we look into those particular components.”
David said the festival is “one of the most diverse” in Memphis and works to “not only to educate African-Americans about history of Africa, but also others about it, because they see a lot of negatives about it.”
Wed., April 19, is the International Entrepreneur’s Day at the Holiday Inn that honors an executive who “exemplifies the mission, goals and statements of our organization and has an extensive record of community service, commitment, dedication and compassion,” Yvonne said. State Reps. G.A. Hardaway, Barbara Cooper and Larry Miller (D-Memphis) have participated in the past.
The Children & Seniors Day on Fri., April 21 kicks off with a diversity parade featuring African dancers, music and stilt walkers, drawing students from a variety of schools. The festival also includes a Health Wellness & Community Day that offers HIV and cholesterol testing, eye care and more.
Festivities end on Sun., April 23 with an International Music Day that includes a church service at Robert R. Church Park, followed by an all-day music festival of jazz, blues and reggae.
Many of the festival participants dress in traditional African garb and the African marketplace showcases carvings, paintings, motifs and more that exhibit the culture. With about 60 food vendors and around 175 craft artisans, all aspects of the African culture are covered.
“They’ll get a taste of Africa, you’ll get a visual portrayal of Africa [and] they get a vision of what goes on in a marketplace,” Yvonne said of the festival. “We are bringing Africa to America. Our people can celebrate their culture, celebrate their history, and recognize the importance of their past and their connections with Africa.”