“The Cha-Cha Slide” rang through the speakers while attendees clapped and danced along, as part of the hundreds gathered for the African American Downtown Festival Saturday. The entertainment included a live band and DJ, with all band members decked out in white uniforms. Mascot characters were also present to keep spirits high on the hot, sunny day.
Community members from the greater Washtenaw County area came together for the annual festival, which lasted all day. The event featured authentic foods, crafts, fashion and other Afrocentric arts.
Ann Arbor resident and event volunteer Jeren Calhoun has worked for the festival since its start 22 years ago. She noted the importance of the event taking place on North Fourth Avenue and East Ann Street, which is Ann Arbor’s Historic Black Business District.
“This neighborhood used to be known for African-American-owned businesses,” Calhoun said. “You see now it’s not the old landstrip that I remember when I first came here. But still this is downtown Ann Arbor, which is a plus for African Americans to come down and have a festival of our own people.”
Organized by the Ann Arbor Cultural and Community Events Coalition, the traditional event aims to cater to all ages. A live band performed jazz, pop and dance music. Attendees crowded in front of the stage to dance and sing along. Vendors sold lemonade, BBQ meats, jewelry, handmade arts, clothing, books and various beauty products.
This year included more vendors than years past with a mixed of experienced and new businesses.
Charles Young, owner of Charles Collectibles, has been coming to the festival for twelve years. Charles Collectibles is a traveling bookstore that specializes in Afrocentric books, Negro League Baseball, Black College, Tuskegee Airmen, Buffalo Soldier, Black Fives Apparel and memorabilia.
“I enjoy what I’m doing because I get a chance to educate folks,” Young said. “This is an annual event for me. It’s intimate here. It’s very compact but there’s always great support.”
This was Valerie Cook’s second year. She is the owner of Pink Elephant, a fashion accessory business selling chokers, necklaces and earrings.
“I decided to come again and kind of get my brand off the ground and see where it takes me,” Cook said. “I did my display a little bit differently than I did last time, and there’s a lot more people than there was last time, as well.”
Recent University alums Maeva Adoumie and Forrest Burnett stumbled upon the festival as they were walking downtown, interested in the food and live music.
“There’s a lot of cool shirts that they are selling, so we’ll probably check some of that out,” Adoumie said.
“There’s a lot of interesting Obama memorabilia as well,” Burnett added.
Calhoun also explained she has seen, firsthand, the way the festival has evolved throughout the years. She emphasized the diversity in attendees, which was not always the case.
“It’s a difference in the culture. We see all cultures here today,” Calhoun said. “And before when they said ‘African American,’ it was mostly Black. But, now we have every culture down here participating.”