The Second Annual Black Cultural Festival at Alton Baker Park
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to properly credit both the postcards and the dolls to a local Black curator and not to the Lane County History Museum. Singer-songwriter Amiaa Nectar was unable to perform during the event due to illness, and Makeda’s Ethiopian Cuisine did not attend due to a family emergency.
On Saturday, Aug 20, Event Producer Talicia Brown-Crowell hosted the 2nd Annual Black Cultural Festival at Alton Baker Park packed with music, art, entertainment, and food focused on celebrating Black PRIDE, Black Joy, and Black Excellence.
After moving to the Eugene area in 2000, Brown-Crowell became “connected to the festival culture for which Oregon is nationally recognized,” but Brown-Crowell noticed something missing at these community celebrations — healthy diversity.
According to the Black Cultural Festival story Brown-Crowell said:
“It became clear that the absence of a cohesive Black community was beginning to weigh more heavily on her soul, and she realized she wasn’t alone in feeling isolated due to the lack of a Black community and spaces for people to gather — Black people require coherent and robust Black communities for the development of a healthy Black identity.
Through her studies of the racist history of Oregon and the face of white nationalism, Talicia began to craft creative ways to combat and push back against the lasting legacy of the KKK, which still predominates her local area.”
Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, Brown-Crowell knew that it was time to organize and to bring people together to promote healing and wellness. Through grassroots organizing, promotion, and broadcasting, Brown-Crowell and her team were able to create the first Black Cultural Festival that took place on Aug. 28, 2021 with attendance by an 80% Black majority.
This year’s event was organized by a larger production team in the same fashion as last year. At 1 p.m., the parking lot at Alton Baker was beginning to fill just as organizers were finishing assembling booths and setting up the last-minute details.
Guests were welcomed at the ticket booth with merchandise and excited smiles. The price of admission went up to $30 after Aug. 6 and for the day of the event. But the event organizers promised that no one of Afro-descent would be turned away due to lack of funds.
The event was located near the picnic shelters and was roped off from the main park, however, with a wristband gained at entry, people could come and go as they pleased.
This setup also allowed ample room for people to spread out and fully immerse themselves in activities of the day and wristband re-entry made the event more accessible. As a result, attendees were encouraged to bring family and friends and spend the day celebrating the vibrant culture and community.
The main stage was lined up with performances showcasing drums, spoken word, comedy, singer songwriters, and dance teams. First to hit the stage was local singer-songwriter Dez Brock enticing the crowd with their musicality, original lyrics, and performance skills.
Other performances included dancers from Manifest Dance Agency, singer Amiia Nectar, comedian Chad Sharpe, and presentations by Black author, scholar, historian, and part inspiration and advisor to the event Kokayi Nosakhere.
Beyond the main stage, the festival included tables offering information, art, jewelry, and other hand-crafted merchandise from local Black-owned businesses and organizations serving the Black community.
The Youth Zone featured local businesses centered on increasing mental and physical wellness in line with the core mission.
We Reign Parties set up a “soft play” area for kids with a ball pit, gymnastics tumbling mats and blocks. We Reign Parties is a new local business that provides event planning for parties for children of all ages, helping people “celebrate like royalty.”
During the event they set up a flower wall as part of their business display inviting guests to capture the moment in red carpet fashion.
Eugene’s Bounce Gymnastics demoed aerial silks near the “soft play” area in the youth area, providing inspiration for the current little gymnasts of the future.
Katie Ebbage, Executive Director of Solid Strides, and her team brought a couple horses to the youth zone offering kids and adults the chance to meet and greet the animals. Solid Strides is a local non-profit organization striving to break down the barriers to the benefits of “life with a horse.”
The non-profit provides a safe and welcoming environment where kids can learn to ride and “gain a holistic equestrian experience.” They offer day camps, summer camps, and daily lessons. The camps range between $5 and $10, lessons start at $50 per lesson. Scholarships are available for any family eligible for their school’s free and reduced lunch program.
Ebbage said they “just finished up nine weeks of summer camp” hosting a different group of students each week. They are currently getting ready and gearing up for fall day camps.
Denise Thomas, the CEO and Director of Healthy Moves, brought her team down to the festival along with an abundance of fun and entertaining activities meant to inspire kids towards a fun, healthy, and active lifestyle.
Spread across the lawn and free for playing were all sorts of lawn games, from ladder ball, mini hurdles, and badminton, to the long jump, as well as jump ropes, footballs, soccer balls, and hula hoops. After all, physical fun is what Healthy Moves is all about.
Healthy Moves partners with local schools and physical education teachers to provide “exceptional physical education.”
They strive to provide something more than “just tag” to students during physical education classes, Thomas explained.
Thomas wants kids to develop the habits of a healthy lifestyle while they are young so they carry those habits into the future and hopes to inspire generations of healthy adults.
The organization has developed programs in Bethel and Springfield, working with the schools’ superintendents to provide a comprehensive and fun curriculum to students. The team also had information available about how to learn more and get involved.
Mama Reneé was on hand with Hillside Academy Childcare Center located at 18th and Todd in Eugene. The center is focused on providing before and after school care for children ages 6 months to 12 years old. The daycare is run by Mama Reneé and her son.
The family business has two locations and serves almost two dozen kids in the Eugene area. Mama Reneé’s loving spirit and seemingly endless energy were infectious as she offered information about their business. She said that one of the reasons she cares for kids is because of the small impacts she knows she has made on their lives and the greater ones they have made on her.
Many of the kids that grew up in her community have maintained relationships with her as adults. She shared stories of those kids coming back to regale her with their accomplishments, which is why she is affectionately called Mama Reneé.
The food trucks were located near the Youth Zone and included Irie Jamaican Kitchen, Once Famous Grill, JustIce Shave Ice, and Stewarts Soul Fusion.
On the other side of the main stage across the event from the Youth Zone was the Museum Without Walls sponsored by the Lane County History Museum, Oregon Black Pioneers, the City of Eugene, and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.
This exhibit featured a stark look back at the negative stereotypical representation of Black individuals and bodies rooted in white supremacy side-by-side with a bold and brighter look into self representations created by local Black Oregonian artists.
The initial design invited the viewer to step directly into the past before stepping into the present. However, due to issues with sprinklers, the exhibit was taken down the night before and was not fully set up until well after 1 p.m. start time.
The past portion of the exhibit walked viewers through items dating back to the Jim Crow era. On loan for display from a local collector who collects racist memorabilia were “picaninny postcards” created, and sent, by white individuals. One exhibit volunteer said that they spent hours putting the post cards in the mounted frames and said that they were greatly traumatized after reading the awful messages written on the backs.
The exhibit also included a display titled “Black Dolls” that featured “golliwog dolls” from the Jim Crow era. The display was set up by the Lane County History Museum and Deborah Neff.
This look into the past also offered a sliver of the narrative moving forward from slavery, through Jim Crow to now. It highlighted the reasons why Black representation matters in media and news and the efforts that have been taken to achieve representation here in Eugene.
Around the corner from the past, viewers eagerly moved forward into the future. Local artists displayed vibrant pieces. Installations included pieces in glass, paint, mixed media, clay, and photography.
The artists on display were available to meet guests in the artists pavilion. The artists included
Michael Moloi, Bobby Fouther, Stormie True, Zina Allen, Rinee Merritt, Gregory S. Black, Percy Appau, Lisa Freeman, Sherlyn Dendy, Perry Johnson, and Chris McMurry.
McMurry was present in the artist pavilion and happily shared information about his art. He is a self-taught artist who uses his personal experiences as inspiration. He turned to a black journal and opened it up.
Inside were his expressions, sometimes the pages included brief passages of writing, but many were abstract portraits rich with color and depth. His work encompases music, poetry, photography, drawings, and zines.
He had one of his zines on sale during the day, a work of love for the abandoned street couches of Portland.
Another local artist and author was set up in between the Youth Zone and the Museum exhibit: Artistic Ambush. Victor Keith’s lens provided a satirical view on race, politics, and religion. He is the author of two books, “The Miseducation of the Christian: A Quick Guide to the Manipulation of the Holy Bible” and “Race, Politics, and Religion.”
Keith had both books, stickers, magnets, and other items all focused on the side of Christianity rarely talked about, the one designed to manipulate, enslave, and control its audience.
Other tables setup for the event included more artisans, crafters, musicians, a sensory exploration tent and one set up for rest and resilience. There were also tables from local financial services, the NAACP, and the Eugene Police Auditor.
Overall there were 26 Black-owned businesses present for the 2nd Annual Black Cultural Festival. The event was also sponsored and supported by another thirty local businesses and organizations.
The 2nd Annual Black Cultural Festival was an unforgettable day filled with joy, art, music, and celebration focused on the rich, vibrant, and dynamic Black Culture in Eugene.