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Saturday, May 28, 2022

The MLK Parade & African Diaspora Festival Returns to Annapolis, Draws a Substantial Crowd

Annapolis-based, community events are bouncing back strong, despite the pandemic. Add the MLK Parade & African Diaspora Festival to the list of cultural happenings which garnered substantial support, after COVID interrupted a festive flow. According to organizers, up to 5,000 people showed up on Saturday, April 2, 2022, to celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy. The celebration kicked off with a parade. The route began at Amos Garrett Bvld. and ended at the City Dock.  

Mayor Gavin Buckley, left, and Annapolis’ Community Services Coordinator, Erica Griswold, right, address the crowd during the MLK Parade & African Diaspora Festival. The Annapolis Drum and Bugle Corps partnered with the City of Annapolis to host the celebratory parade and festival. The combined event was held on April 2, 2022 in Annapolis. It returned after the pandemic halted a public celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pan-African culture in America. Organizers permanently changed the date to the first weekend in April due to January’s typical inclement weather constraints. Courtesy of The City of Annapolis

Syncopate drumming filled the streets as pom poms shook and whistles blared.

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Josephine Brown, a native Annapolitan who currently resides in Bowie, Maryland, played a substantial role in reinvigorating Annapolis with a renewed festive vibe. Brown served as chairman of the MLK Parade. After the parade ceased, music, food, activities for kids, vendors selling items, and various activities unfolded at Susan B. Campbell Park. Go-go bands and other musical acts cranked tunes, including celebrity funkster, Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliot who is widely known as a founding band member of Experience Unlimited E.U.

Mayor Gavin Buckley, left, addresses the crowd as Erica Griswold, right, who is the City of Annapolis’ Community Services Coordinator, stands alongside him. Courtesy of The City of Annapolis

   The spirit of unity was embedded in fun event. Brown teamed up with Adetola Ajayi—an Annapolitan who works as the African American Community Services Specialist for the City of Annapolis. Ajayi was the other organizer and co-chairman to Brown who added the African Diaspora Festival as a post-parade activity. Officials were included in the collaborative lineup, including Delegate Adrienne Jones. She served as the parade’s grand marshal. Annapolis’ Mayor, Gavin Buckley also made a parade appearance.  The City of Annapolis co-sponsored the lively day.

Adetola Ajayi, left, partnered with Josephine Brown, right, to combine forces as organizers to bring the family-friendly MLK Parade & African Diaspora Festival back to Annapolis. Photo credit- Robert McKinzie

   Brown explained that the previous MLK parade schedule led to postponements, due to cold weather in January. It will now permanently be held the first week in April, around the time King was assassinated. 

   “We’re still commemorating his legacy and life,” Brown said, highlighting the importance of collaboration. “The one thing I can say is that when we work together, we all succeed. We do well, when we come together. Everything doesn’t always have to be separate. Adetola and I worked together. He worked just as hard on the parade as I did on the festival. It was a joint venture. It was no separation between the parade and festival.”

   Brown credited Priscilla Montague, the founder and director of the Annapolis Drum and Bugle Corps, as the visionary who started the MLK Parade tradition in Annapolis. It paused for several years, due to the pandemic. Additionally, the origin of the African Diaspora Festival dates back to 2019, but COVID interrupted that, too.

William Rowell, Annapolis’ Senior Advisor/Community Relations Specialist, points while walking in the MLK Parade with other city officials behind him. They include Ward 2 Alderwoman, Karma O’Neil, and Ward 3 Alderwoman, Rhonda Pindell-Charles.
Courtesy of The City of Annapolis
 

    “When I started working with the city (of Annapolis), I wanted to bring that festival into my work, and…bring it at the city as a partner,” Ajayi said, mentioning that he wanted to establish it as a program.

In 2017, the first event which he organized with Black Wall Street Maryland at the Stanton Center. It was hosted by Darius Stanton. By 2019, the idea to merge the MLK Parade with it evolved. Most recently, Brown reached out to start planning while Ajayi tackled other components of commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. King and illustrate that the Black African diaspora exists in Annapolis. Inclusion of music and art was an important piece in inspiring people to come to enjoy the day.

   “One of the main things, core things I would say… or the vision that I had was just unity in our community, and particularly in our city,” Ajayi said, underscoring the idea that Black people can successfully combine forces. “So I just think Black people can work together is the message.”

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