African Festival of the Arts celebrate 30 years

The 30th Annual African Festival of the Arts was held this weekend in Washington Park where participants were treated to African art, music, food and a simulated African marketplace. Photo by Spencer Bibbs.


The 2019 African Festival of the Arts brought joy, fun, and even a message for attendees. This Labor Day weekend tradition transformed Washington Park into a celebration of culture that included a wellness village, fine art, exquisite food, and books and authors.

And, the festival, which began on Friday, Aug. 30, and continued until Monday, Sept. 2, had attendees enjoying performances by Wale, Rotimi, Donnie McClurkin, and a final show-stopping performance from the Ohio Players.

Celebrating our traditions, the honoring of the Grand Baba, Hosea Sanders, and Maudlyne Ihejirika, the Grand Yeye symbolizes the importance of maintaining traditions that are unknown or simply overlooked in American History books.

“Being named this year’s Grand YeYe is certainly one of the highlights of my career. There are no awards more meaningful than those that come from your people, from the Diasporan village, both African and African-American,” said Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Chronicles columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Grand YeYe and Grand Baba are titles given ‘for community service to one who shares wisdom with his/her village.’ There can be no compliment greater than that, as that has been my lifelong mission as a black woman writer aspiring after her heroes such as the late great Toni Morrison.”

To ensure that our history is never forgotten, even in the age of technology and e-books, author, Yusef Ali-El who wrote his first book in 1973 and has attended the festival for over 20 years said, “I do what I love, and I love books and I like turning pages. People say, ‘Do you have an e-book?’ And I say, ‘can you autograph an e-book? I leave a paper trail.”

El says it’s important for the community to continue showing up each year for the festival for the camaraderie that exists among small business owners. “I was amazed at all the artists and business owners; and there are so many businesses to support here,” says El. “I’d hate to just be here as a visitor. Because if I was, I’d want to come back tomorrow and I would be here selling something.”

Brian Davis and Nubia Murray have turned the festival into a tradition that has brought their love for pommes frites to the community. “I cook for my wife all the time,” says Davis.

The couple relocated to New York for about 12 years and decided to come back home to Chicago to make a significant contribution as first-time business owners.  “Doing this vending as a first-time, stepping out of faith showcase, I thought this would be the perfect place for it,” says Davis. “This is all community, these are all people who I’m familiar with, who I’m comfortable sharing myself and my product with and I feel like I would get good support being [here] and it has been a tremendous support.”

Davis says his experience was everything he expected from the festival goers and surrounding community, “It’s a lot of people out here supporting, everybody’s united, we’re all looking out for one another and supporting one another. It’s a great time.”

There were vendors present with a greater mission to save and encourage Chicago’s youth, including the founder of Justus Junkie, April Preyar. As a criminal defense attorney for 20 years, Preyar said she got tired of only helping one person at a time and decided to create in an effort to help youth learn legal terminology, procedures, and, ultimately, reduce the number of arrests and police-involved shootings in the city of Chicago.

“I know for a fact, every time somebody plays my game, I’ve saved a life,” says Preyar. “I can’t say that every time I go to court and get a continuance that I’ve saved a life, but I can absolutely say that for the game.”

Preyar has been featured on ABC News, Oxygen, and NBC News. It took one self-producedvideo to go viral overnight in 2018 to let her know that there was not only a need but to press forward. Her personal mission is teaching the seven rules she believes will save lives through safe interaction with law enforcement. The “Seven R’s?” Don’t run, reach, resist, run your mouth; do refuse all DUI tests, refuse consent to search, request a lawyer.



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