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African-American cultural fest at Heritage Village

“Learn to Listen” is told by professional storyteller Uwezo Sudan during last year’s celebration.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times (2008)

“Learn to Listen” is told by professional storyteller Uwezo Sudan during last year’s celebration.

The aroma of barbecue in the breeze.

The distinctive sounds of gospel, jazz and blues.

As locals will tell you, those elements have helped make the 10th annual Florida African American Heritage Celebration, scheduled for Saturday at Heritage Village impossible to resist.

It has all been calculated, said Randy Lightfoot, one of the event founders and president of the Pinellas County African American History Museum.

"We know that when people are enjoying something, having fun, they're going to stay and be educated, and that's what our goal is — to educate people on the local African-American history through celebration,'' he said.

Throughout the day, storytellers, artists, musicians and dancers will perform on stages, some under the oaks, some inside the historic structures of Heritage Village.

Interestingly enough, the people who benefit the most from the celebration seem to be those from outside the African-American culture, Lightfoot said.

"Year after year, one of the successes that we're proud of is that we draw a diverse crowd who learns about history right here in their own neighborhood,'' said Lightfoot, who also teaches American government at St. Petersburg College in Tarpon Springs.

One returning crowd pleaser will be James Tokley, Tampa's poet laureate.

"You can always expect him to bring something new to say,'' Lightfoot said. "He's a big draw.''

Included among the food vendors will be several local businesses.

"Let's see, as far as returning favorites for food, I'd have to say Delores Helm's of Largo with her soul food, her collard greens and black eyed peas always has a line,'' Lightfoot said.

Another feature will be the GospelFest, a judged competition of choirs from Florida churches. According to Steve Marshall, the competition organizer, it will be an animated program.

"What I mean by animated is that African-American gospel is energetic and vivacious," he said. "Music is all the slaves had to cling to, and now, African-American people have an innate ability to identify with the music.''

Despite rain, last year's festival drew more than 3,000 people, and organizers expect another big crowd.

"Last year's weather was nothing compared to eight years ago,'' Lightfoot said. "It rained all day long without stopping, but people who know the celebration know that rain doesn't stop us. When people get here, even if it's raining, they stay. They don't want to leave.''

If you go

What: 10th annual Florida African American Heritage Celebration

When: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Heritage Village, 11909 125th St. N, Largo

Cost: Free

Features: Storytelling, music, dance performances and food.

Also: Free parking and a shuttle. Visitors should take Ulmerton Road to the stop light at 119th Street and follow directional signs south on 119th Street to the event parking area. Handicapped parking and drop-off will be available at the former Gulf Coast Museum of Art.

African-American cultural fest at Heritage Village 02/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 6:46pm]
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