African-American Heritage Festival

African-American Heritage Festival

Date Observed: First week in May
Location: Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

The Multicultural Center at Ohio State University in Columbus holds an annual African-American Heritage Festival over the first week in May. The purpose is to share a celebration of African-American culture and history with the university. In 2006, the festival celebrated its 28th year.

Historical Background

Ohio State University opened in 1873 with 24 students, none of whom were black. Fewer than 20 years later, however, the first African-American students were enrolled. The university established its Black Studies Department in 1972. During the 1970s black enrollment had increased to the point at which African-American student services became necessary. The umbrella Multicultural Center, which now organizes the festival, was created during the mid-1990s. By 2005 African Americans comprised about seven percent of the university's student body.

Creation of the Festival

The African-American Heritage Festival has its origins in an informal block party held by students in the 1970s. Each year the event was repeated and grew in size. By the 1980s, students began efforts to instead create an event that would focus on cultural awareness. In 2001 they named the celebration the African-American Heritage Festival. Organizers also began to use a different Swahili term each year as part of the festival's theme. In 2005, for example, the theme was "Kisima: Healing the Mind, Body and Soul." Kisima means "well." In 2006, the term Ufanisi (meaning "prosperity") was used: "Ufanisi: Striving for Higher Heights."

Observance

The African-American Heritage Festival begins with a parade of student groups and marching bands. During the week, events include forums that address the year's theme - for example, in 2005, a panel discussed diabetes, a disease that affects many African Americans, and a health fair provided free screenings. A step show, basketball tournament, food market, music, art, poetry, and dancing are part of this annual festival as well. In addition, volunteers read stories and poems to young schoolchildren throughout the week to encourage them to read.

Contact and Web Site

African American Student Services The Ohio State Multicultural Center The Ohio Union 1739 N. High St. Columbus, OH 43210 614-688-8449

Further Reading

Fine, Elizabeth C. Soulstepping: African American Step Shows. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2003.

Stepping

For decades African-American fraternities and sororities have developed and performed stepping performances that are rooted in African and AfricanAmerican cultures. The tradition has been passed on for generations, and step shows are part of many African-American festivals and celebrations in the United States. Step shows also have become popular worldwide.

Stepping involves synchronized movements, such as high steps, hand clapping, arm crossing, and shoulder tapping. This complex performance also is mixed with singing and chanting.
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