Many dressed in dashikis and traditional African garb. Some pushed toddlers in strollers or held the hands of their excited children.
Some were younger and others have seen the seasons change many times but all of them had one thing in common — they came to celebrate their African heritage during the 15th Annual Afrakan Independence and Maat Day celebration at Malcolm X Memorial Park at 52nd and Pine Streets in West Philadelphia on Saturday.
“This is our 15th anniversary and we are very, very proud to do what we do as a grassroots community celebration of a parade and festival which we have every year,” said Oba Olayinka, a member of the Afrakan Independence and Maat Celebration who emceed the event.
“We are very, very happy to service the community. That is our job, that is our responsibility. No one is going to service our community but other African people, so we are very proud of that fact,” Olayinka said.
Despite the hard work of organizing dozens of vendors, numerous performers and speakers and hundreds of guests who attend the event thought the day long festival, Olayinka describes it as “a labor of love.”
“I’ve been involved with Afrakan Independence Day since the very beginning, since 2004, and its really a part of my life and it’s a part of the lives of our organizing committee which works so hard each and every year, all year long, to bring it to the community,” he said.
Farugh Maat is also a member of the organizing committee and works diligently every year to see that the festival goes on.
“It’s a day of celebrating tradition, heritage and culture,” Maat said. “This African lifestyle is a lifestyle and not a subculture. This is year-round for us; this is a lifestyle and we just want to show our brothers and sisters that it is possible to be African even in this society.”
The celebration began with the “Do for Self Jakanoo Parade” parade which began 10 a.m. from 52nd and Pine streets and concluded at Malcolm X Memorial Park.
Not only does the event allow for the Diaspora to freely celebrate their culture with other African people but is also an opportunity to support black artists and merchants like Erica Walker of Walk Ahead Marketing, one of the numerous vendors at the festival.
“I decided, instead of talking about the problem all the time, to focus on the solution which is being a producer and letting people know about all of these beautiful black products that we have available to us to help us grow our economy,” Walker said.
One of those products True Laundry detergent that were not animal tested, nor contained animal products, was safe on sensitive skin and were four times as concentrated as commercial products of its kind.
Walker also sold Coral Oral toothbrushes that were conceptualized by a youth group in Atlanta, Georgia.
“They created the first ever all black toothbrush, and a model on the back of each pack showing how to properly brush your teeth and there’s also a little-known black history fact on the back of each pack as well,” Walker said.
Walker said that she was a first-time vendor of the Afrakan festival but was pleased with the experience.
“I think it’s beautiful,” she said. “I love the knowledge that they are providing today. I love the music. I love the call and response, the audience participation and the fact that they are allowing for community engagement.”
The community participation in the festival not only keeps the energy at the festival alive but allows them to embrace their culture, which prompted Walker to say “I’m loving the experience here.”