News Column

African World Festival draws big crowd in Detroit for 3-day event

August 18, 2014

By Marlon A. Walker, Detroit Free Press



Aug. 18--Khairat Abdul-Mujeeb and her husband, Ali Abdus-Shaheed, placed jewelry on stands and in cases Sunday afternoon under a tent set up on Brush Street in Midtown Detroit, telling passers-by about the origin of the designs.

"Look at that," Abdus-Shaheed said, pointing to a bracelet. "That's a fork."

In it was an oval chunk of onyx, held in place by fork spears fashioned around it.

The couple runs Lateef Originals, one of more than 100 vendors who set up along Brush and on the grounds of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History for the 32nd Annual African World Festival. The three-day festival, ending tonight, drew about 150,000 people in its third year at the museum since it moved from its longtime digs at Hart Plaza.

"Folks have recognized how suitable these grounds are for presenting this event," said festival director Njia Kia, motioning toward the berms and greenery in the backdrop of the museum.

She said the viewing area to the main stage, directly behind the museum, was packed Saturday as Detroit gospel acts the Clark Sisters and Kierra Sheard jammed out. But without the stationary kitchens that are present at Hart Plaza, the number of food vendors is still rebounding from the move, Kia said.

Still, vendors have had nothing but praise for the retooled event, she said.

For the owners of Lateef Originals, they said the festival brought with it a chance for them to help establish a place in the local market.

"We chose to use this opportunity to do business in Detroit," said Abdul-Mujeeb, who said they set up shop at various festivals across the country to sell the unique jewelry. "If we continue to spend with ourselves, we can create a stronger economic base."

Kia said the event continues to grow at its new digs. In addition to the vendors selling food, clothes and jewelry, activities this year included African dance performances, a classic car exhibit, and a Coca Cola experience in which participants could name their cans and bottles, as seen in the recent "Share a Coke" campaign.

Sunday afternoon, during a segment honoring black elders and ancestors, U.S. Rep. John Conyers took the stage and mentioned the late Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who died in December. Conyers, who recently advanced to the Nov. 4 General Election for a chance at a 25th term in office, also invoked the memory of Michael Brown, the teen shot to death by a police officer in the St. Louis suburb Ferguson, Mo., which has sparked rioting, looting and militarized responses from local authorities.

"I come to you to tell you police brutality is something we have to watch out for everywhere, including Ferguson," he told the crowd of about 200 around the main stage.

He also mentioned Milton Hall, a homeless Saginaw man shot to death by police in July 2012 after officers responded to reports that a man had stolen a cup of coffee from a convenience store. Hall was shot at 47 times by six officers, and struck by 11 bullets. Witnesses to the incident recorded portions of it on their cell phones.

He said the cases prove to him that the laws on record are "criminalizing" the nation, but having a lopsided effect on black males. He said it's a focal point of his next term in office, which he's expected to cruise to in the heavily Democratic 13th District.

Contact Marlon A. Walker: 313-223-4531 or mwalker@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter: @marlonawalker.

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(c)2014 the Detroit Free Press

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Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)


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