Colorado Black Arts Festivals 2021

Building a bridge of unity for African immigrants and Black Americans

The long history of racism and anti-black inclination in the United States has caused so many American blacks to be at the bottom of the economic and social ladders, concentrated in dysfunctional “hoods” and struggling to make ends meet.

By: Mohamadou Cisse

Community leaders from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and other countries of the African continent engaged on July 9th, 2021, with an audience composed of various segments of the African diaspora of Colorado, in a conversation that was aimed at building bridges of understanding and developing friendship among people. The conversation was part of the agenda of 35th edition of the Colorado Black Arts Festival’s opening day. That day celebrated the diverse cultures of Africa and its nations.

Community members of various countries of Africa came together to showcase culture and share traditions. One cultural highlight in the program of the day was the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The audience watched Mickias and his crew demonstrates how coffee is traditionally made in his country and showed some of the coffee rituals practiced in the East African country for ages. The freshly brewed coffee was passed around for tasting. Mickias is the owner of Lucy Coffee, located in the Denver metropolitan area.

Disk-jockeys and singers entertained the crowd throughout the afternoon. The culminating performance of the day was provided by the Sing Sing, A group of five incredibly talented Senegalese percussionists, based in Boston. Colorado Black Arts Festival is a highly anticipated three-day event that showcases black talents, arts and crafts, cultures, and traditions. The festival draws visitors from all over the country each year, as a major venue to celebrate the cultural and artistic contributions of blacks in the Rocky Mountain region.

In dedicating the opening day to the celebration of African nations, the leadership of the festival asserted the necessity to provide a dynamic space for Colorado African Diaspora and Americans to thrive and work together towards improving the amicable relationships between the two groups. American Blacks and African immigrants have continued to have a complex relationship, sometimes characterized by fear and ignorance; other times expressed in solidarity, based on the acknowledgment of a common plight.

As a result of the long history of racism and anti-black inclination in the United States, so many American blacks are at the bottom of the economic and social ladders, concentrated in dysfunctional “hoods” and struggling to make ends meet. Also, when they arrive here, most African immigrants often find themselves living in rundown neighborhoods, the only places they can afford.

So, the first impression these groups have of each other is mostly formed in competitive settings where they contend for scarce resources in order to get ahead. Rather than a development of understanding and amicable relationship, competitors tend to engage in adversity, which can generate feelings of animosity.

The mainstream media’s bias against Africa feeds the ignorance and prejudice, so prevalent in a country where a sitting president had no problem referring publicly, to African nations as shithole countries or calling a black athlete ‘son of a bitch’.

The audience enjoyed a highly electric drumming performance by Sing Sing. The session reminded some in the audience when, in the 90s, legendary percussionist Mor Thiam and his wife, Ndeye Gueye, parents of Senegalese American rapper AKON, played at the Colorado event.

Coordinated by Sharon D. Diop and fashion designer Amadou Dieng, who is also the media strategist at ALG, the celebration resulted from a partnership between African Leadership Group and Colorado Blacks Arts Festival, based on exploring ways of building goodwill bridges throughout the diaspora.

Founded by former banking executive, Papa Marie Tew Dia, African Leadership Group is a Denver-based nonprofit organization which provides support to various communities in Colorado and is also a strong

advocate for the African immigrant community.

Perry Ayers and his brother Baba Oya founded the Black Arts Festival more than three decades ago to celebrate the dynamism of black heritage and culture in the Rockies. In his welcoming remarks, Perry spoke of his dream of creating space for continuously strengthening relationships and of greater collaboration between the African diaspora and Americans. His dream is being carried on by his niece, Dana Manyhotane, who is working tirelessly alongside many volunteers who made Colorado Blacks Arts Festival the success story it has become.

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