What words does a poet laureate use when describing the African-American Heritage Celebration?
"It is a congenial gathering in the highest sense,'' said James Tokley, who has served as the city of Tampa's poet laureate since 1996. For the 11th year in a row, he will be a featured performer at the event scheduled for Saturday at Heritage Village.
"It is a festival wherein people come as friends, and at the end of the day, we are all much better because of being there,'' said the 60-year-old.
Started 11 years ago, as a collaboration between Pinellas County Schools and the Pinellas County African-American History Museum, participants attending the 2010 celebration will once again get a chance to enjoy soul food while listening to an assortment of storytellers, poets and musicians both inside and outside the 25 historic structures.
"I'm planning on bringing my own work, but I always bring my old friends,'' said Tokley. "I'll bring Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Sterling Allen Brown with me. I tell you, whether you're a child or an adult, once you hear out loud something like Paul Dunbar's When de Co'n Pone's Hot, you will be raptured.''
The celebration was created to focus on successes of local African-Americans in Florida, as opposed to far away places like Chicago and Birmingham, said Randy Lightfoot, event coordinator.
"We try to teach good historical examples like Miss Della Jackson, the first African-American midwife to work at Morton Plant,'' said Lightfoot. "When we started, we aimed to help kids understand that their ancestors have laid a foundation of success, and therefore, through showing the kids good examples, they will go on and succeed themselves.''
The event will also include two competitions, the Step Off Extravaganza and the GospelFest.
The Step Off Extravaganza, coordinated by Cindy Robertson, a Dunedin high school physical education teacher, features stepping, a combination of music, dance and drama.
"Stepping is the art of making a rhythmic beat with your hands and feet. Through stepping, we want to empower the youth to be a positive force for change, and to voice out against drugs, violence and racism,'' said Robertson, 51. The contest will be made up of 15 teams with categories ranging from elementary to college level.
GospelFest, a judged competition of choirs from Florida churches, also returns. It will be held on the site of the former Gulfcoast Museum, next to Heritage Village and reachable by foot.
"It will once again be huge,'' said Lightfoot. "I know already that fifteen churches are coming.''