By Jacqualine S. Williams
African World Festival made an impressive comeback last Sunday after recovering from financial difficulties and a violent incident that cast an uncertain cloud over the future of the successful family event.
With a new board of directors led by Milwaukee businessman, Mark Wade, organizers took a two-year hiatus to fundraise, re-group, conduct community outreach activities and strategically plan the one-day event.
The opening ceremony moved from the Cultural Area to the Miller stage, the main stage for the festival. “The festival is all of ours . . . We will move forward into the future together, so the festival will never be broke again,” said Wade.
Greg Bowers, who was convicted of the 1998 shooting that caused Summerfest to install metal detectors on the grounds, proved that time heals all wounds.
Bowers contacted festival organizers to ask if he could provide a public apology. “I wanted to express my deepest concerns . . . to my community and African World Festival,” said Bowers. “I am continually changing my life and my environment.”
Bowers credited his two children for making a change in his life. “My children are my backbone — they are who I live for.”
Opening ceremony host, Andrea Williams, Jammin’ 98.3 radio personality, said this incident led to the downfall of the festival.
Congresswoman Gwen Moore compared the festival to the resurgence of Africa, “Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes.”
“There are 900 million people on the continent of Africa who are entrepreneurs, consumers and have natural resources,” said Moore.
Long time sponsor, WE Energies, represented by Community Relations director Thelma Sias, encouraged the crowd with reassurance that the festival, ‘is back to stay’.
This sentiment was evident throughout the day as crowds filled the seats to hear local saxophonists, Marcus Adams and Christopher Pipkens. These performers set the stage for a string of national acts on the Miller stage: Roy Ayers, Najee and Charlie Wilson.
The WE Energies Gospel stage boasted local Gospel artist Phoebe Hines and national recording artists Hezekiah Walker and the Love Choir, who despite a flight delay, made th most of their shortened performance by closing out the night with hits such as, ‘Grateful’.
There were mixed opinions from festival-goers on whether the festival should remain a one-day event or be extended to its former three-day schedule.
Mike Love, host of V100s, ‘Sunday Blazer’ show said he hoped the festival will return to its three-day stint, because the city came out in record numbers to show support.
However, many said they wanted th festival to build on its one-day success.
Pastor Rodney Cunningham of Macedonia Baptist Church, said he hoped to see more national Gospel performers next year. ‘Christians are put on th back-burner at the (Milwaukee) festivals,’ said Cunningham.
This year’s event proved that determination and proper planning were key in helping African World Festival get back on its feet. “Nothing will break the solidarity and integrity we have as a people,” said Congresswoman Moore.