The 2022 Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival was vibrant with children, an indication that its original intent has taken root.
“I was at the gate where so many children came in,” said Executive Director Dr. David Acey. “There is never a charge for the younger ones, but I told many of the teens to just come on it because it was so wonderful seeing our children come out to the festival.”
For four-year-old Ayden Christopher, there were two things that made his first visit to Africa in April memorable: the African drums and superbubble shooter toys. When asked what he liked most about the festival, Ayden answered, “I like my new friends and all the bubbles.”
Children and teens were seen having bubble-shooting battles on the grass in the middle of Church Park. Ayden and his “new friends” screamed and ran, dodging bubble clouds and shooting back.
Youngsters gravitated to the African drums, walking right up and trying their hand at beating them. Ayden made quite the haul during his time at the festival, leaving with a drum, two bubble shooters, a light-up sword, and memories made with “new friends.”
“Children are really what this is all about,” said Stacey Ragston, daughter of the late Memphis singer, Ruby Wilson.
“I brought my grandchildren because I want them to see Africa in April and experience their culture,” said Ragston. “Children have been running and playing all day. It’s just so good to see them outside again. This is our ‘back to happy’ from a pandemic that robbed us of so much.”
Mother of twins, Rosalyn Gates, gloried in the warmth of “village” and “community.” She stored away glimpses of her 5-year-old girls running in the grass with other children, shooting cascades of bubbles.
“Normally, when I take the girls out somewhere, I am frantically looking after them every moment,” said Gates. “But I can see them playing with other children, and I know their screams and laughter. I wanted to show my girls African culture, but they are getting more than just an education.
“Older adults are looking (after) the children. It feels like a village. It feels like community. We are not strangers here, but neighbors.”
According to organizers of the 35th Annual Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival, an estimated 30,000 were in attendance during the five-day event. This year, the Republic of Malawi was honored.
“When we first started, there was only a vision,” said Acey. “We wanted the festival in spring, the time of renewal and rebirth. We wanted our people to be educated about where they came from. So, we honor African countries. We had no money, just a dream. And 35 years later, we see the village manifested. There is no village without the children.”
The celebration was set in historic Robert R. Church Park in downtown Memphis, April 20-24.
Mbyesey Kah, the vendor selling bubble shooters and light-up swords, did very well with his variety of children’s toys.
“This is my sixth year at Africa in April,” said Kah. “Business is always quite good, but there is something more. Such a spirit of unity, something I really love. I am from Senegal, but my business is in Atlanta now.
“In all of my years at Africa in April, I have never seen so many children. We are running out of all the toys. Watching the children makes me happy. It reminds me of our village at home.”
For Acey, the festival was different this year in a very significant way.
“The festival has two very important elements of African life,” said Acey. “The village and the marketplace – they are essential to African culture. Our vendors and the children have created both. But our children are the heart of the village. I will remember 2022 as the year of the village. It is such a beautiful thing.”