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Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival returns to Annapolis with energy and entertainment

Andrea Blackstone | 10/2/2015, 6 a.m.
Strong winds did not deter over 4.000 festival-goers from attending the 26th Annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival that was held ...
Dancers and drummers from Keur Khaleyi African Dance Co. from Baltimore celebrate African heritage at the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival on September 26, 2015 in Annapolis. The festival returned after a two-year hiatus, with the help of dedicated volunteers and sponsors. (See article on page 10) (Photo: Andrea Blackstone)

— Strong winds did not deter over 4.000 festival-goers from attending the 26th Annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival that was held in Annapolis on Saturday, September 26, 2015.

Newcomers like Sean McClanahan accidentally discovered the festivities, after biking from Baltimore with a friend to visit Annapolis. The bikers heard the sounds of drums on the way to grab something to eat and ended up exploring the festival. Curious individuals who had never seen the statute of Alex Haley headed toward the nearby place where his African ancestor, Kunta Kinte, was said to have arrived on the Lord Ligonier ship as a slave in 1767.

Terrell Freeman served as the emcee of the Kunta Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival. He welcomed everyone back to the festival which had been on a two-year hiatus.

“I thank everyone for the intro and for being out here to celebrate, not only our heritage, but also a part of the heritage and history of the city,” Freeman said.

Free entertainment began at 10 a.m. and closed with dancing to music played by the Clones of Funk around 7 p.m. Annapolitans like Thurman George and Zeenita Dorsey were familiar with what previous Kunta Kinte Heritage festivals had to offer. George remarked that he returned to share a part of history.

“I think it’s nice. More people need to just start supporting. When it used to be at Crownsville, we all cried about we think it should be here. Now it’s here, we just need to build it back up,” George said.

The multi-generational event attracted a mixture of performers, vendors, local leaders, organizations, sororities, families, friends, longtime volunteers and groups. Approximately 33 members of the Jewels — a senior adult ministry based at Ebenezer

A.M.E. Church in Fort Washington, Maryland., attended the festival. Betty Cain, president of the ministry, remarked that attending the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival is a tradition for them.

“We came [to the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival] because we like our heritage. It’s an honor for the seniors,” Cain said.

Debbie Wood, is a 23-year volunteer with the festival. She founded the Annapolis-based Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Wood stayed busy in the children’s tent as young festival-goers trickled in to make crafts, drum, play dress-up and participate in various interactive activities. Along with a few other volunteers who helped Wood, midshipmen from the Naval Academy offered to help at the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival.

Community involvement and volunteerism was formally recognized this year. Thomas “Tee” Arthur —the originator of the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival, and Hannah Chambers— a longtime volunteer, received inaugural Shelley White awards. Renee Spears, co-chair of the festival, explained that the honor will be given yearly. White was a veteran of the Annapolis Police Department. He died in May of 2015.

“Shelley White was instrumental in the community in helping to make sure that he mentored children who were in trouble. He was just a really kind person,” Spears said. “He worked with the festival for 20 years or more as security and making sure that everybody was straight. He always had a funny story to tell you, or he always had something positive to give to you. The Shelley White Award is geared toward people who are committed to the community.”