Wedged between the Adventure District and the state Capitol, business owners in the Capitol Chamber of Commerce have watched drivers pass by their stores and take their money to other parts of the city.
In an effort to convince shoppers to stop and sample the rich history and unique culture of the largest African- American population in the state, the chamber has organized the ambitious Africa West, a culture and heritage festival showcasing the area’s continuing development.
“This is absolutely an outreach to the wider Oklahoma community,” said organizer John Hasley, noting the festival is a family-oriented event with a children’s plaza, entertainment and a cookout. “In the next few years, we are hoping to make it a statewide event, and everyone is welcome to attend.”
Africa West is a two-day event, with Friday focusing on introducing large, outside business interests to area small-business owners. Saturday is open to the public, with artists, vendors, fashion shows, a car show and other activities throughout the day.
“We will also represent the Ethiopian and Ghana communities,” said organizer Paulette Washington, adding that a queen from Ghana will give a presentation.
According to Hasley, promoting pride and development within the African-American community is among the most important aspects of the festival. Last year, Africa West drew 6,000 people; he expects attendance to rise, so organizers are taking advantage by addressing some of the challenges facing the area.
“Africa West addresses education, lack of community, lack of job opportunities, dealing with health issues and also shows the history of the people in the community,” he said. “One of the things that glues this community together is individual pride in who we are, and Africa West is something to pull all that together.”
Festival headliner will be singer/ actress Chandra Currelley (“Madea’s Big Happy Family”), who believes that it is becoming increasingly important for touring musicians to have strong African-American communities throughout the country where artists know they can find fans.
“I know that I have an audience in Oklahoma, but I’ve never performed my music there,” Currelley said. “Oklahoma may not be one of those places you think of as a black mecca, but these areas have existed for a long time and they are getting more exposure now, especially among black people who feel like they can now go into the Midwest and be successful in the community.”