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The International African Arts Festival: Where Family Matters




Special to Our Time Press

Benin Mask

Benin Mask

In 1971, Uhuru Sasa Shule (Freedom Now School) was a Brooklyn community-based initiative that educated youth and adults about African culture. It was the imperative of the time. At the end of the academic year, the school held a fundraiser with about 20 vendors, and local entertainers. And there was food for sale, all prepared by parents of the students. Almost 2,000 people came to the event and the fundraiser was a major success. That early format of integrating entertainment, food, and marketplace drew increasing crowds annually. The event became known as the African Street Carnival. Four years later, the carnival moved to the field at Boys and Girls High School. There, the event became the African Street Festival and it emerged as a pioneering major cultural arts institution that was the gathering place for Black people from across the globe; the “thing to do” every July 4th weekend in Brooklyn.

In 2016, 45 years later, that same event is now the International African Arts Festival (IAAFestival). From 2,000 people to an estimated annual audience of 75,000, The Festival is still the place to be in July. And over the decades, another core thing has remained constant: IAAFestival is still community-based and it is still narrowly focused on educating youth and adults about African culture. It is the gathering place that is fitting for both children and elders alike. Throughout its history, never has there been an incidence of violence or crime at The Festival. And it serves as a reunion hub, of sorts, for people of African ancestry, regardless of one’s origin of birth or cultural practice.

Perhaps the most attractive element of The Festival is that people can see themselves as they walk around the grounds of Commodore Barry Park. As with every year, live music, African dance, children and family activities all reflect the diversity of the African Diaspora. Annually, highlights include a natural hair show; a fashion show; martial arts demonstrations; an Akom Ceremony; an ancestral shrine; a symposium on culture and community, co-presented by the National Association of Kawaida Organizations; and much more. And the 2016 headliners reflect our diversity as well: the Haïtian music icon EMELINE MICHEL, GRAMMY® Award winning jazz musician GARY BARTZ, the legendary poet and human rights activist SONIA SANCHEZ, global hip hop trailblazer BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR(from Ghana), Nigerian multi-talented AfroBeat singer/dancer WUNMI, and the Kankouran West African Dance Company, and more!

Bring the entire family out to the International African Arts Festival, July 1 – 4, 2016. For more information, visit


As a 501c3 non-profit organization, IAAFestival has been financed by a small and distinguished segment of the community. Our operating budget is based on suggested donations at the gate, vendor registrants, small grants from local elected officials, and a select limited number of business sponsors. Please donate what you can and support Brooklyn’s oldest premiere cultural arts institution dedicated to the promotion of African arts and culture and of the African family. Visit


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