A family-oriented festival celebrating the perseverance, education, and cultural heritage of Africans, African Americans, and Caribbean people of African descent was birthed in Annapolis, Maryland. The late author Alex Haley’s desire to dig for his roots still spreads to this day, although he died in 1992. Kunta Kinte’s journey of being brought to Annapolis aboard the ship Lord Ligonier reportedly dates to 1767.

Kunta Kinte remains a symbol of resilient ancestors who triumphed above challenges, including enslavement. While remembering them, elders served as an important bridge to connect unknown pieces of Haley’s life. People who want to benefit from intergenerational connectedness still celebrate the value of family griots who are wise and informative. “Roots” sparked pride and interest in cultural heritage and people of all racial backgrounds yearning to trace their roots.

“As a boy, Alex Haley was lucky to have been around a grandmother who had an improbably long memory of her ancestry. Indeed, in knowing such a grandmother he was luckier than most boys of his race. She passed on to him far more information about the origins of their family than black Americans are usually in a position to remember,” per an article written in 1977 by The New Yorker.

Out of Haley’s ancestral story, the tradition of holding the 32nd Annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival continues to evolve and attract all ages of festival-goers. On Saturday, September 24, 2022, at Susan Campbell Park, at the Annapolis City Dock from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., music, food, arts, culture, family fun, a gardening demonstration, activities for children, and educational activities will be underway.

Jan F. Lee, chair of the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival, said that a remembrance ceremony will start the festival at the memorial along with the Kunta Kinte Alex Haley Foundation at 10 a.m. After the kickoff, three stages of entertainment will be available, in addition to over 110 vendors. Items such as food; jewelry; paintings; clothing; and body care will be sold at the event. Two young entrepreneurs selling a novel and candles will participate.

“We have vendors coming from New Jersey; Delaware; Georgia; Pennsylvania; Ohio; New Jersey; New York; and Virginia,” Lee said.

Black Alley—a go-go band based in the District of Columbia— will be this year’s festival headliner. Saxophonist Art Sherrod Jr.; a gospel group called Divine of Annapolis; Flawless Breezyy; the Clones of Funk; Ni Dembaya Drum & Dance Ensemble; Lifetime Band; and Expressions Dance Company are among performers.

A dancer moves to the sound of drum beats. Photo credit: Pierre Parker

Lee anticipates that at least 9,000 people will show up to attend the annual festival, like last year. The chair and others are still attempting to spread the word about the 32nd Annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival. She mentioned that because of the upcoming renovations in Annapolis downtown area, it will also be necessary to find a new venue next year. Volunteers currently want to focus on what people are enjoying while fostering the festival’s growth.

“We do want to get back to the day where people came from all over the country to come to the Kunta Kinte Festival,” Lee said.

A mental health panel will be a new addition this year. The discussion entitled “Going To Therapy Means I’m Crazy… Myths About Mental Health” will be held on the community stage. Lee reminded that mental health and wellness are not taboo topics. She wants people to be armed with information to enable healing.

“People can ask whatever questions they have,” Lee said.

Lee started as the festival’s co-chair in 2015. She stated that she is proud of the team of dedicated volunteers who want to keep it going. She mentioned that having someone else bring their vision, knowledge, and ideas to the festival as chair is a future desire. The search for a replacement for Lee, after this year, will be on the horizon.

Danielle Young is now the vice chair and chair of the arts and crafts vendors. She has been volunteering since 2000, according to the Annual Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival’s website.

Young mentioned that her favorite aspect of the festival is “seeing all of us come together as a community, and as a people.”

Lee mentioned that Park Place garage parking, or utilizing the City of Annapolis’ shuttle, are encouraged options for festival attendees. Visit https://www.kuntakinte.org to learn more about this year’s Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival.

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