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It's almost like a family gathering

The first thing Jamar Newsome did was grab a plate of chicken wings and french fries. As he ate, he checked out the sights.

"There's a lot of girls out here," said the Boca Ciega High School senior, who came to Saturday's seventh annual Florida African-American Heritage Celebration with a group of teens from the Pinellas County Urban League.

"That's what it's all about," event chairman Randy Lightfoot said. "People enjoying people."

And even though 6,000 attendees formed a diverse group, Lightfoot compared the event to a family reunion.

"People are busy all year round," he said. "This is a good time for them to catch up with each other."

In addition, there was plenty for participants to do and see at the free event.

"We planned a wide variety of events to appeal to everyone," Lightfoot said.

Pinellas County marketing communications specialist Crystal Pruitt thanked the cities for working together.

"It's fantastic that the county and other municipalities all come together," she said. "What a great opportunity for people of our community to come together and celebrate African-American culture."

Throughout the celebration, held at Pinewood Cultural Park in Largo, people were having a good time. Jack Fletcher, 56, enjoyed the storytelling.

"It's a great art form," he said. "It's refreshing to hear the characterizations. They obviously put a lot into their craft."

Elsewhere, people enjoyed a wide range of music and dancing, including African drumming, jazz, hip-hop, blues and reggae. A high-energy step competition drew a large crowd, and a gospel competition showcased a wide range of styles.

Tiffany Anderson, 28, of St. Petersburg belted out a song called Happy.

"I'm having a fabulous time," she said. "It's always a blessing to sing."

Harriet Thompkins of Largo was striking in her brightly colored outfit. Thompkins, a librarian with the Pinellas County Library Cooperative, said she dresses in an African outfit every day in February. She was thrilled with the four vibrant outfits she bought at the celebration.

"I spent all my money," she joked, adding that she enjoyed the beautiful day, the music and the ethnic foods.

In the children's area, kids were encouraged to create "story quilts" that tell a little about themselves.

Samantha Ford, 10, and her mother, Lynne Ford, 43, of St. Petersburg spent time together as they worked on their tasks.

Samantha said she thought the project was fun, but that hers also had a message.

"Today is all about our heritage and how we've come through what we've been through," she said.

ABOVE: Randolph Charles of the group Prince Rupert and the Caribbean Limbo Dancers, greets an audience during a limbo dancing show at the seventh annual Florida African-American Heritage Celebration on Saturday in Largo. LEFT: Storyteller Zoe Sudan entertains an audience with stories about local African-American history.

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