Baltimore region celebrates African American heritage

By Alexa Limbach
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

An estimated 5,000 people attended the 21st annual Baltimore County African American Cultural Festival last Saturday in Towson to enjoy the rich African American culture with live gospel performances, soul food favorites and much more.

The festival included over 100 vendors from throughout the state who showcased everything from clothes made from African American textiles to historic photographs of Baltimore County’s 40 historically recognized African American neighborhoods.

The festival was founded in 1996 by Maryland State Delegate and Speaker Pro-Tem Adrienne Jones to create a vibrant event of the arts and culture of Baltimore County and celebrate the thriving traditions of the African American community.

“I absolutely love it here,” said Paula Darby, a spectator of the festival from Baltimore County.  “I’ve come for many years and hope to keep doing so.”

Tiffany Mathis, president of The Journey Continues, stands by her survivor collection of hair and photos in her pink tutu. Photo by Alexa Limbach.

Tiffany Mathis, president of The Journey Continues, stands by her survivor collection of hair and photos in her pink tutu. Photo by Alexa Limbach.

One of the vendors at the festival was Tiffany Mathis, the president of The Journey Continues, a non-profit organization that provides support, comfort, advocacy and research for those impacted by breast cancer.

A breast cancer survivor herself, Mathis has made it her mission to help others who are affected.

“We help them through the breast cancer journey from diagnosis to survivorship,” Mathis said.

About 80 percent of the volunteers with The Journey Continues are survivors themselves.  They hope to create and facilitate a breast cancer platform for the minority communities.

“We let those with breast cancer know that they’re not alone,” Mathis said.

Attendees who stopped at the pink tent were able to see the locks of hair lost from cancer patients with the words “SURVIVOR” across the frame in big pink letters.

Mathis said breast cancer impacts many people.

“If they’re not impacted, their auntie is impacted, their great grandmother died from it, they have a sister who just came from chemo, or they themselves are a survivor,” Mathis said.  “It’s unfortunate that it is that many but we’re here and we want to make it work for them and let them know that they’re not alone.  We’ve had some people in tears today from talking to us about this vicious cancer.”

Mathis and her organization were not the only ones who arrived early Saturday morning to bring awareness for a certain cause.

Sonnie Njau came to the festival in hopes to raise money by selling clothes and jewelry for the nonprofit Men Impact Change (M.I.C.), a multicultural organization that helps get men to mentor young boys around the Baltimore area.

Sonnie Njau in her Men Impact Change t-shirt at her tent at the BCAACF. Photo by Alexa Limbach.

Sonnie Njau in her Men Impact Change T-shirt at her tent at the BCAACF. Photo by Alexa Limbach.

M.I.C. targets boys who lack a stable father figure or are affected by domestic violence and gun violence, Njau said.  The organization pairs a mentor and child together to listen and believe in the boy and to guide them in making better choices.

The nonprofit was created in 2014 with hopes to build a community of men that values and respects women and to eradicate sexual harassment and gender-based violence globally.

“We are in the process of raising young men to be the next generation of leaders,” Njau said.  “There aren’t enough resources that are supporting our young men so now we are here to give them as much support as possible.”

The Journey Continues and Men Impact Change both hope to return to the BCAACF next year.

“It’s a great environment here and it’s nice to celebrate the culture,” Njau said.

The festival roared with live music and laughter all across the Towson Patriot Plaza, where it was held.  The streets were filled with color to showcase the vibrant African American culture.

The vendors ranged from nonprofit organizations to cultural wooden carvings and instruments.

Some of the tents that sold their goods came from local small businesses and shops, but people like Alfred Igbodo created his own African boutique solely for local festivals like the BCAACF.  He looks forward to events such as this to showcase his artistic talents in hopes to make a profit for him and his wife.

Coley Arrington, a visual artist, also does not have his own store but vends at events to sell his art.  Like Igbodo, Arrington uses the BCAACF and similar festivals to make a name for him and his culturally influenced artwork.

Danyell Williams brought some clothing to sell from her new local boutique, Illicit Rag Vintage, that’s located on Bellona Avenue in Towson.   Her boutique emphasizes the African American rag culture and aims to have a thrift store vibe with her unique range of styles and colors for her designs.

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