Ifasola Elesije, a fitness guru and insurance product representative, took in Africa in April with his wife, Ololadie, and their son, Ifasola Elesije Jr. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

The Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival drew over 20,000 people as attendees and participants worked around a rainy day.

Scheduled for Friday, the International Parade was beset with rain so heavy that the drummers for Hillcrest and Youth Villages had to hold up getting off the bus.

“But when it let up just a little, they got off the bus with those drums, and I tell you the truth, they got the job done,” said Dr. David Acey, Africa in April’s executive director.

While the 2023 cultural awareness gathering suffered that first day in Robert R. Church Park in Downtown, thousands came out Saturday to salute this year’s honored country, the Republic of Rwanda.

The 36th annual festival kicked off with the traditional Wednesday night brunch. Garnering the Executive of the Year Award was Shannon A. Brown, retired senior vice-president of FedEx’s Eastern Division of Operations and chief diversity officer.

Yvonne Acey (center), co-founder of the Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival, Yvonne Acey (center) was in good company. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

“Shannon Brown has used his platform to ensure that FedEx is a leading community partner in organizing charitable events,” said Dr. Yvonne Acey, the festival’s co-founder. “Families in the Memphis community are much better off because of Shannon’s desire to serve. He is well-deserving and an easy choice.”

Almost 150 showcased a variety of fashions, food, toys and other items. Live music, featuring multiple genres greeted attendees. Sunday focused on the celebration of “black gospel music” as an integral part of African-American heritage.

Africa in April has always been about the children. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

A children’s activity center was a huge part of the festival’s success this year.

“We’ve always said that returning to the community and rebuilding ‘the village’ has always been the main goal,” said Dr. David Acey. 

“It’s about giving young people a sense of pride, and showing them how to honor their heritage. Africa in April is Black legacy.”