Dover’s African American Festival to celebrate culture

 

Dover Inner City Cultural League founder Reuben Salters leads the ceremonial processional around Legislative Mall during last year’s African American Festival in Dover. This year’s event starts at 10 a.m. Saturday with the processional set for 11. (Delaware State News file photo)

Dover Inner City Cultural League founder Reuben Salters leads the ceremonial processional around Legislative Mall during last year’s African American Festival in Dover. This year’s event starts at 10 a.m. Saturday with the processional set for 11. (Delaware State News file photo)

DOVER — It all started with a conversation between former Dover City Councilman Reuben Salters and former State Rep. Donald Blakey about having an event to celebrate African-American culture in Dover.

Twenty-six years later, the “Positively Dover” African-American Festival, held every year on the fourth Saturday in June on Legislative Mall, has become one of the signature events in the capital city and the state of Delaware.

“I never thought it would be what it’s become,” said Mr. Salters this week while thinking back to those early days.

“And it’s the same with the Sankofa Dancers and Drummers. We started them about the same time. We have a new building (the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center). It’s amazing that all of this stuff has come to fruition.

“There has just been fantastic growth in the inner city culturally.”

The Sankofa Dance Company will help lead the processional Saturday. (Delaware State News file photo)

The Sankofa Dance Company will help lead the processional Saturday. (Delaware State News file photo)

Founder of the Inner City Cultural League in 1971, Mr. Salters opened the facility as a place for the inner city youth of Dover to play sports, but quickly expanded to include the visual and performing arts.

Twenty-four years later, the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center, a 4,000-square-foot building at 39 S. West St. in Dover, was dedicated in November 2015.

It houses the Inner City Cultural League offices, its youth programs and activities, serves as a performance venue for the Sankofa African Dancers and Drummers, the Sankofa String Orchestra and theater programs by DonDel Productions.

“It really wasn’t me who did all of this. It was the people of Dover,” Mr Salters said.

“I just kept at it and folks just kept giving me money and eventually good things happened. It’s due to the generosity of people like Don Blakey, who held my tail to the fire. He always says ‘if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right.’ ”

The festival, set for Saturday, has been done right all these years. It is one of the largest one-day ethnic festivals in the state, bringing the arts, food, culture, fashion and fun to the downtown area.

This year’s event starts at 10 a.m. with the annual procession of local officials and organizers, led by the Sankofa African Dance Company at 11 a.m.

U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons are expected to be on hand along with Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen.

“That will start the official activities as we go around the perimeter of Legislative Hall,” Mr. Salters said.

More than 100 vendors from around the East Coast will be on site, selling African artifacts and fabrics, providing information on topics such as cancer, veterans issues and voter registration, and of course cooking up good eats.

“We have food representing cuisine from all over the world,” Mr. Salters said.

“Mexican, Caribbean, Greek — you name it. We’ll have about 30 food vendors. The most popular always seems to be the fried fish from Bethel AME Church in Chestertown, Maryland.”

Greg Hill and The Delfonics Revue will pay tribute to the legendary soul group as the headlining musical act at this year’s African American Festival. (Submitted photo)

Greg Hill and The Delfonics Revue will pay tribute to the legendary soul group as the headlining musical act at this year’s African American Festival. (Submitted photo)

Activities for the kids, including crafts, will be available as well.

“It’s a real family affair. There is no alcohol allowed,” Mr. Salters said.

Entertainment is a big part of the day. This year’s lineup is headlined by Greg Hill and The Delfonics Revue.

Mr. Hill was a member of William Hart’s original Delfonics for more than 15 years. After touring with the original soul group, Mr. Hill began his own tribute show.

The group’s songs include the hits “La La Means I Love You,” “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind” and “Ready or Not.”

Entertainment also includes Anthony “Swamp Dog” Clark, a blues musician from Maryland, who won the Central Delaware Blues Society’s Battle of the Blues Competition last year, earning him a trip to the International Blues Competition in Memphis, Tennessee, in February.

Other artists on the bill this year are the Wilmington Youth Jazz Band, Philadelphia Freedom Gospel Choir, Trinidad and Tobago Steel Band and child prodigy Eldre Gladney, who will show off his musical talent on seven different instruments. Eldre is a member of the recently created Sankofa String Orchestra.

“It’s packed all day,” said Denise Hicks-Barnes, executive director of the Inner City Cultural League, of the festival.

“People come and put their chairs out for the whole day. Some come for certain groups and watch them perform and then leave or they will come for their favorite food and then take off and come back. It’s just good camaraderie and good fellowship.”

Mr. Salters said the festival brings together the whole community — not just the African-American population.

“It’s not just for black folks. It’s for everyone,” he said.

“We think it’s good public relations. It’s good human relations. It gets people talking to each other and just enjoying each other’s company and enjoying the day.”

For more information, visit www.icclarts.org.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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