This past week, the International African Arts Festival celebrated its 41st annual celebration, and it kicked off the five-day festival with a symposium on critical issues affecting the global African community right across the street from the festival at PS 287 in Fort Greene.
The symposium, organized by The National Association of Kawaida Organizations (NAKO), was aimed at bringing together the community to discuss issues that affect the African Diaspora such as the arts, culture, music, media, social justice and racism.
This was the 23rd year the symposium had been done, and featured distinguished guests like: Juan Gonzalez from the Daily News and Democracy Now!, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante of Temple University, international composer and musician Randy Weston, cultural supporter and musician Kojo Ade, artist and art therapist Paul Singleton, Professor Michael Tillotson of Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, City Councilman Jumaane Williams; Larry Hamm founder and president of the People’s Organization For Progress; Yoruba priestess and singer Amma Mcken.
The first speaker, Juan Gonzalez, discussed issues related to minority suppression and under-representation in the media that dates back to the beginning of America.
“Race has been central to the press since day one in America,” echoed Gonzalez. “The [mainstream] press has been used to inflame race relations rather than stay neutral or try and cool them down.”
Renowned musician Randy Weston touched upon how the African Diaspora is all connected through music, and how it is vital to African/black culture.
“We are connected through the music, African rhythms are in everything we do,” said Weston. “Music is our soul.”
Musician Kojo Ade chimed in saying that “All of the arts are essential to our culture. We must challenge the notion that our cultural arts are detrimental to American mainstream culture.”
Many of the topics touched upon throughout the day focused not on how to take power back for the African-American community, but rather how to establish and embrace a separate African-American cultural movement.
While the speakers and panelists were in no short supply, the audience turnout was very low, causing some concern for the symposiums’ organizers.
We had a fabulous lineup, but low turnout,” said Bok-Keem Nyerere one of the organizers of NAKO and the symposium. “I think that the election of Obama has affected some of the activism in the black community.”
Nyerere touched upon the idea that the once-thriving African-American activist community might not be as enthusiastic as they once were now that there is a black man in the nation’s highest office. But he did not blame the low turnout on that fact alone.
“The guests we had spoke very well about their topics and it’s been very informative and good, but we just needed more people. Without the people you can’t really push ahead on certain issues,” he said.
Another one of the symposiums’ notable guests, John Watusi Branch, co-founder of The Afrikan Poetry Theatre, touched upon the low turnout.
“We invite people who support the whole concept of community struggle here. We’ve had more people in the past, but lately not so much. Perhaps it’s because it was a hot day.”