Festival to spotlight African culture and Decatur’s civil rights history

Although visitors to the Pan African Festival in Decatur will have the opportunity to hear African music, sample African cuisine, and experience other aspects of African culture, the festival is as much a celebration of those of African heritage who have made their homes in the Decatur area as of a continent 5,000 miles away.

Visitdecaturgeorgia.com describes the festival, which returns to Decatur for the third year on Aug. 19, as a “celebration of Black culture and Black joy that engages the entire family and community.”

The event is spearheaded by Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, a community organization created eight years ago to “address issues of equity in Decatur and surrounding communities.” This year’s festival theme is “Liberations Rising: Remember, Resist, Rejoice!” and the one-day celebration will spotlight the progress of Decatur’s Black community as it celebrates African culture.

Attorney Mawuli Davis, co-founder of Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, commented, “The Pan African Festival is a celebration of our culture.  We want people of African descent to enjoy the historic Decatur Square with music, art, and fun.  Everyone is welcome and it is free.”

Promising “an unforgettable celebration of Pan African culture, heritage, and entertainment,” organizers said in an announcement of the event, “The festival aims to create a space where attendees can immerse themselves in the beauty and richness of African heritage while fostering unity and celebrating the spirit of liberation.”

Festival organizers have “meticulously curated a diverse lineup that represents the richness and diversity of African, Caribbean, and African American music, dance, and art,” according to a news release. Along with traditional African rhythms, visitors may experience such contemporary African-American entertainment as hip-hop and spoken word.

Among the performers confirmed for the festival are Poppa Ellis, a reggae/calypso artist; Westmoor Drive, composed of Georgia Me, Abyss, Red Storm, and Tommy Bottoms; spoken word group Mercy Myra, accompanied by Mausiki Scales; AfroBeats artist A LaZ; and hip-hop artist Naka. The Ear Doctor is the featured DJ.

In addition to musical performances, the festival will feature a variety of cultural activities, art exhibitions, and food vendors offering African cuisine. There will be an African Market Place, Children’s Village, and youth performances. DXOMX will be the DJ and performer for the Youth Power Hour, from 2 until 5 p.m., hosted by the Young Creators of the Black Man Lab, Mahogany, Qualon, and Decatur resident Alec Myrik.

The festive event offers more than entertainment, the organizers say, it also has educational opportunities. Visitors are encouraged to take a self-guided tour of 12 points of interest in Decatur that “highlight the contributions of [Decatur’s] Black residents.”

One of the points of interest is a statue in Decatur’s MARTA Plaza that honors Decatur Mayor Emerita Elizabeth Wilson, who in 2015 convened concerned area residents to form Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights. Wilson, who raised a family in Beacon Hill, is Decatur’s only Black mayor.

Other sites on the tour include the contextual marker at the site of the “Lost Cause” monument to the Confederacy and the site of the former Confederate Memorial, which is being replaced by a statue of civil rights activist John Lewis, who until his death represented a portion of DeKalb County in Congress. Both are near the Old Courthouse Square, where the festival is taking place.

The art piece What Sonia Said is on the self-guided tour that visitors to Decatur’s Pan African Festival are encouraged to take.

The tour also includes a recently placed historic marker near the current courthouse that chronicles a DeKalb County judge’s sentencing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to four months at hard labor for his participation in a protest march. Another marker in the same area honors DeKalb residents who died at the hands of lynch mobs.

The newest addition to the tour is “What Sonia Said,” an art piece by Ellex Swavoni behind the Ebster Recreational Center. The art was inspired by Sonia Sanchez‘s poem “Catch the Fire,” in which fire is “a metaphor for the power within the DNA of Black and Indigenous peoples.” Although the festival is one day, the tour is available at any time.

Co-hosts of this year’s festival are Osei the Dark Secret of V-103 and poet Queen Sheba.

The Pan African Festival will be held on Aug. 19, from 2 until 10 p.m. in the Decatur Square at 509 N McDonough St. The festival is free and open to the public.


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