Why Was The African World Festival Canceled Again?

african-festival

Forgive me if this sounds like a broken record, but African World Festival is canceled yet again.

The reasons given for the festival being canceled for the third year in a row? Lack of support. Lack of money. Not able to sign a top performer.

All of these reasons sound like poor excuses for not being able to put on an event that highlights African culture.

Mark Wade, president of the African World Festival board, hinted several weeks ago that someone younger needs to take over and run the board. “I’ve been doing this a long time and put up a lot of my own money to keep it going. It’s time for someone to take this into a different direction,” he said.

Maybe that isn’t a bad idea; new blood may be exactly what is needed to return the festival back to its glory.

The festival wasn’t always in trouble. When it started in 1983 as Afro Fest, attendance was good and there were no negative incidents. But when the Opportunities Industrialization Center Inc. of Greater Milwaukee folded, a huge funding source for the festival ended, and there were not enough black businesses to step up and fill the void.

Smaller festivals have a harder time than, say, Summerfest, but we have seen other cultural groups continue to put on successful celebrations year after year. PrideFest continues due to a number of volunteers and expert planning, and other ethnic festivals such as Polish Fest, Festa Italiana, German Fest, Irish Fest and Mexican Fiesta are set for this summer.

Former Summerfest director Bo Black was disappointed when she heard that the festival was canceled last year. She wondered if the African World Festival board needed help in order to pull the event off. She also asked if Summerfest could offer some expertise, additional financial backing or have people on its board work on the AWF board to secure donors.

It would be great if the black business community would step up as it did to bring back the Black Holocaust Museum.

These efforts take a lot of planning and organization, but when people come to the table and can see how their money is being spent, work can get done.

I miss the culture and unity that surrounded the festival. I miss the fraternity and sorority step-show competitions; the vendors selling African goods that you could only get at that time of the year; the different styles of African dress and spoken word poetry; I miss the food; I miss seeing performers such as Charlie Wilson and Najee. I also miss seeing the elders of the community come together every year to kick off the festival by offering education of our history and blessings on the community.

This event and others like it are much needed. Milwaukee needs something positive. This city needs a board that it can believe in to host an annual African World Fest. We need a place where we can talk about our culture and learn all of the great things that we have accomplished.

If it’s about money, then that part seems simple enough to fix. A huge fund-raiser or several smaller ones done throughout the year could do the trick.

Wade suggested that people don’t want to support the festival because the performing acts aren’t big enough names. He also hinted at people wanting freebies. Raising ticket prices also was not an option because he said it would price too many people out.

Wade said he thought about putting the event on for one day but at a cost of $400,000, it just was not feasible. To do it right, the event needs to be three days.

The festival is more than just entertainment; it’s a time for our community to come together for good times and relationship building, not just in times of tragedy. But if we want to have the festival for 2017, planning needs to start now and black businesses need to be on board.

We also need to support these black businesses, because if we don’t, they won’t be there, just like the festival isn’t there now.

This isn’t happening, only in Milwaukee, this happening in most cities. How do we prevent this from happening with our Black expos across the country? Sound off below. 

By James E. Causey, Journal Sentinel columnist and blogger. Email james.causey@jrn.com. Facebook: fb.me/jamescausey.12 Twitter: jecausey

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