African American Festival a celebration of culture

Inner City Cultural League Founder Reuben Salters, left, walks in the procession with Se, Tom Carper during the Positively Dover African American Festival at Legislative Mall on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Sankofa African Dancers and Drummers put the crowd in awe with their rhythm and dance moves while dozens of vendors sold African art and fabrics and the smells of many diverse foods wafted through the air at Legislative Mall on Saturday.

However, perhaps the one thing that touched the soul more than anything else at the 28th annual “Positively Dover” African American Festival was the traditional African Libation ceremony, a blessing performed by Dr. Joe Amoako from Delaware State University.

Sankofa dancers march during the procession at the Positively Dover African American Festival at Legislative Mall on Saturday.

Dr. Amoako told those gathered that Libation is a ritual of heritage, a drink offering to honor and please God, the lesser divinities, sacred ancestors, humans present and not present, as well as the environment.

“Almighty and dependable God, come and partake this drink,” Dr. Amoako said, leading off the ceremony, while pouring some water onto the ground. “Mother Earth, come and partake this drink.”

He was glad to be able to provide those who gathered on the overcast day with a glimpse into the African culture. He has been hosting the Libation blessing for many years at the festival.

“This festival has been going on for more than 20 years,” Dr. Amoako said. “It brings people of African descent together and other people.

“When we get here we get to enjoy food of African descent, dances and a lot of music being played, so it is kind of bringing a lot of African descendants together here and helping them to enjoy their heritage.”

Reuben Salters, a former Dover City Councilman who founded the African American Festival along with former state Rep. Don Blakey in 1991, led the Grand Procession that kicked off the event alongside Sen. Tom Carper at around 11:15 Saturday morning.

Yeshiyah B. Israel helps a customer at her African Apparel Boutique stand during the Positively Dover African American Festival at Legislative Mall on Saturday.

Mr. Salters enjoys all that the festival has brought the community for nearly 30 years – especially in letting African American youth gain insight into their ancestors, along with their heritage.

“It’s always a great event,” he said. “Everyone comes out and has a good time. It’s a great way to share our heritage and culture with one another and to educate the youth about where they came from.”

Sen. Carper said a little bit of rain wouldn’t held the festival back. It never did quite rain and the sun actually came out in the afternoon.

“I’ve been here when it rained, I’ve been here when it’s beautiful, I’ve been here when it’s hot and I’ve been here when it’s cold, and it’s going to take more than a little bit of rain to dampen the spirits of the people of Delaware and all of the folks coming here (Saturday),” Sen. Carper said.

He added that the African American Festival was a wonderful chance for people of all backgrounds to come together.

Sankofa drummer Zachary Brown keeps the beat during the Positively Dover African American Festival at Legislative Mall on Saturday.

“We have people that come here from all over the world,” said Sen. Carper. “(Friday) night I was at the Chinese American Festival up in Hockessin. Last week we had the Italian Festival and the week before we had the Greek Festival.

“(Saturday) we have the African American Festival. I don’t care where you’re from or where your folks are from, we’ve got a festival for you. (Saturday) we celebrate the African American community and it’s great to be here.”

A large group joined Mr. Salters and Sen. Carper, as several state and local dignitaries marched in the Grand Procession along with the Sankofa Drummers and Dancers, walking the inside perimeter of Legislative Mall offering greetings to the guests who were gathered.

The festival offered the opportunity for visitors to explore the African and African-American culture through vendor exhibits and entertainment in an atmosphere reflecting modern-day African outdoors marketplaces.

The day-long celebration of African culture included food, crafts, dancing, drumming and music.

The Sankofa African Dance Co. and Drummers, the Calvary Baptist Church Gospel Choir, Dale Teats, the Sankofa Steel Drum Band, Fazes Jazz Band with Greg Taylor and Co., and Dover indie blues band Hoochi Coochi provided the entertainment on the main stage.

Sankofa dancer Daja Jernigan waits to perform during the Positively Dover African American Festival at Legislative Mall on Saturday.

The festival also featured dozens and dozens of vendors, many of whom were selling African-oriented products, clothes and art. Other organizations were there to provide information regarding their businesses, including talking about health issues, offering massages and promoting their businesses.

There were also nearly 30 food vendors on hand, as well as a moon bounce, face painting and crafts for the children.

Camille Combs, of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, was at Saturday’s celebration watching two of her young daughters participate with the Sankofa Dancers.

“It’s awesome and wonderful,” Ms. Combs said. “It’s very important for those of us gathered here because we need to know our cultural background.

“I really love the dance, not just because my daughters are in it, but because it represents a very important part of culture for African Americans.”

One could almost hear Dr. Amoako as the sun broke out from the clouds later in the afternoon at the festival and more people arrived for the celebration.

“Local weathermen, come and partake this drink.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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