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Meshelle ‘The Indie-Mom of Comedy’ is No Joke

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Meshelle “The Indie-Mom of Comedy” (Courtesy Photo)

Meshelle “The Indie-Mom of Comedy” (Courtesy Photo)

by Jannette J. Witmyer
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Anyone trying to keep up with Meshelle “The Indie-Mom of Comedy” had better lace up his or her track shoes, take a deep breath, and be prepared for a near-exhausting and rigorous run. To say that she leads a full and busy life would be an understatement.

When the award-winning, off-Broadway actress and standup comedienne is not performing in New York, Chicago,Los Angeles and points in between, she’s back home in Baltimore handling her business as a wife, mom to three, author, social justice advocate and nonprofit administrator. And, juggling all of those hats just scratches the surface of all that goes on in this Indie-Mom’s life.

Right about now, if you are amongst the uninformed (as was I), you’re probably wondering, “What is an Indie-Mom?”

In the simplest terms, an Indie-Mom is a woman who does not lose her identity to motherhood.

In Meshelle’s case, “Staying completely innovative and staying independent and still having a very individual sense of self, while being the best mom you can be, and, in my case, wife. That’s what the Indie-mom is all about.”

“An Indie-Mom is independent, innovative, with individuality, fearless and poised to live her dream,” she explains.

MechelleIndieMomWhich brings us to her one-woman show, “Diary of a MILF (Mom I’d Love to Follow).” In October 2014, the full theater production, which she wrote and in which performs all five characters, won the Outstanding Solo Performer Award at the 15th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival, the second largest off-Broadway theater festival in New York. Directed by Rain Pryor, it is headed to LA, February 27 and 28, for an invitation-only special engagement, entertaining producers and industry executives from the areas of development and talent.

“MILF,” she explains, “is a derogatory term that was popularized by the movie “American Pie” that came out in the 90s. One of the characters used the term referring to moms with whom he’d like to have sex. It was supposed to be a term of endearment, a reference to moms or older women still having sex appeal and attraction.”

“I thought it would be fun to play on the MILF understanding and create a show around what it’s like to juggle my life as a standup, a wife for over 15 years, mother of three, social justice advocate, running a nonprofit, all of this in tandem, while my highest intention when I left my doctorate was to pursue my standup.”

Oh, right… I forgot to mention that she is a former doctoral candidate at Temple University.

The show not only covers a day in her life, juggling all of those hats, and what it takes to get to a performance, on any given day, but it is set during the Christmas holidays, with characters ranging from a preschool-aged Jewish boy to an elitist, country club-type mom, layering several additional sets of dynamics on the day’s journey.

“It’s a hoot to get through a full day as me, wearing all of those hats, and to see how, ultimately, I end up on stage, at the end of the day,” she says, laughing.

While Meshelle sees the humor in all of the juggling, she also understands how stressful it can be, which is one of the reasons she created Moms Nite Off “A Night of Comedy and Cocktails,” with another native Baltimorean, touring comic Larry Lancaster. Held at the Baltimore Creative Alliance’s Marquee Lounge, the event provides a space for Indie-Moms and others who may be stressed to unwind and enjoy a cocktail or two and some adult fun, standup comedy.

As an artist who usually works out of town, she says, “It’s a way to maintain a footprint in Baltimore, to keep the community aware of how things are shifting for me, not only on TV, but in the theater world with my one-woman show. A way to keep Baltimore in the loop, while still giving them some great entertainment…”

To further establish her footprint as an artist in Baltimore and to raise funds for her nonprofit organization, Goaldiggers The Sankofa Project, the 2010-2012 Open Society Institute Community Fellow has unearthed yet another hat, one that she’s worn all of her life, singer. On April 25, she will toss that hat up among the others and reintroduce that side of herself, at Creative Alliance, in a cabaret she created, “Funny, Fierce and Fabulous.”

“There was always a little girl in me who was in every musical production… Dorothy in the Wiz, Purlie, Dreamgirls… From elementary school to college, I’ve always been a gay man, drag queen, stuffed inside a heterosexual little girl’s body. I love everything about musical theater,” she says of her love for the genre.

Meshelle “The Indie-Mom of Comedy” may be the comedienne’s brand, but being an Indie-Mom touches every part of her life.

“I wouldn’t be an Indie-mom if it weren’t for my three children. They take precedence. It’s God, me, and my family… And, my art is the gift… This is who I am. I have to get on stage, and I have to perform. And, they show up on stage with me because those characters are from the authentic life if being a mom.”

The next Moms Nite Off “A Night of Comedy and Cocktails” is March 3 at the Baltimore Creative Alliance’s Marquee Lounge.

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Gunshot Medley Brings Black Theatre to the Electric Lodge

LOS ANGELES SENTINEL — “Gunshot Medley: Part I” is the latest play to hit the stage at the Electric Lodge on Abbot Kinney Boulevard near Venice Beach. Running until August 19, the play tells the story of American history through the eyes of three slaves.

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Donathan Walters (left) as George, Mildred Langford (middle) as Betty, and Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield (right) as High Priestess in Gunshot Medley: Part 1. (Photo Credit: Cristian Kreckler)
Donathan Walters (left) as George, Mildred Langford (middle) as Betty, and Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield (right) as High Priestess in Gunshot Medley: Part 1. (Photo Credit: Cristian Kreckler)

A play with a Black cast, director, and playwright tells a story of pain, racism, and hope at the Electric Lodge.

By Shaquille Woods

“Gunshot Medley: Part I” is the latest play to hit the stage at the Electric Lodge on Abbot Kinney Boulevard near Venice Beach. Running until August 19, the play tells the story of American history through the eyes of three slaves.

The playwright, Dionna Michelle Daniel, was inspired to write this play in 2015, after the Charleston Church shooting. While in North Carolina, she visited a graveyard where she found the graves of Betty, Alvis, and George who would eventually become the characters for “Gunshot Medley: Part I.” All that was left on the graves were their names and the dates that they died, each before the Emancipation Proclamation. Daniel also found something unsettling in the graveyard — newly placed Confederate flags.

“At the time that I wrote ‘Gunshot Medley,’ there was so much going on with killings and discourse over the Confederate flag,” said Daniel. “For me the play is an awakening. It is so vital for Black people to tell our stories because we have lived through these experiences and the pain is real.”

Set in a haunted graveyard in North Carolina, audiences see the connections of racism through past and present. Betty, Alvis, and George are not able to rest their souls. They want to believe that things are better, and cover up the pain, but what they see in the present takes them back to their own past hurt. They see happy moments in Black culture as well, referencing famous songs and dances, but they are reminded of pain with each gunshot that they hear.

Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield (left) as High Preistess looks on as Derek Jackson (middle) and Mildred Langford (right) dance as Alvis and Betty in Gunshot Medley: Part 1. (Photo Credit: Cristian Krekcler)

Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield (left) as High Preistess looks on as Derek Jackson (middle) and Mildred Langford (right) dance as Alvis and Betty in Gunshot Medley: Part 1. (Photo Credit: Cristian Krekcler)

Betty represents a mother figure, constantly cleaning to cover up her pain. Alvis takes on a more playful role, looking for the beauty in everything, and George represents revolutionaries fighting and dying for change. The fourth character is High Priestess Oya. When Daniel originally wrote the play, she made a lot of reference to the wind and the rustle of leaves and treetops. One of her friends told her about Orisha Oya, an African goddess who is the ruler of storms and winds, and the protector of cemeteries.  From that comes the majestic character garbed in elegant reds and an expression of pain upon her face.

“The play was very powerful and moving,” said Tenille Jones, one of the audience members. “I think that it will open people’s eyes and make change for the better. I like how the main character, Betty, thought that she had to clean something up to solve the problems, but in the end, it showed that racism is more of a comprehensive problem. It’s not just a one-person problem, it’s a worldwide problem. I was very entertained. It’s a great way to spend an hour and support Black theatre.”

“Gunshot Medley: Part I” started as a project for a program at California Institute of the Arts, or CalArts, where Daniel graduated. She presented it in their 2016 New Works Festival and won the chance to go to New York to have a reading of the play and get it published. One of the readers from New York put Daniel in contact with Desean Terry of Collaborative Artists Bloc, a production team that produces performances that explore of cultural identity and promote social change. Terry became the director of “Gunshot Medley: Part I,” giving the play a Black cast, Black director, and Black playwright.

In 2018, Rogue Machine Theatre joined in and brought the production to the stage at the MET Theatre in Santa Monica for a two-week run. “Gun Shot Medley: Part I” also did a two-week run at the Watts Village Theater Company, where tickets were based on a donation of any amount and audience members could register to vote. Rogue Machine Theatre has brought the play back this year to the Electric Lodge. “Gunshot Medley: Part I” runs through August 19. Student tickets are $25.99 and general admission is $39.99. For more information and reservations, call (855) 585-5185 or visit www.collaborativeartistsbloc.org.

This article originally appeared in The Los Angeles Sentinel.

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Cardi B. Sets the Record Straight about Her Race and Ethnicity

NEW ORLEANS DATA NEWS WEEKLY — The conversation surrounding Latinos regarding ethnicity vs. race is an ongoing theme. Cardi B, a Black Latina who speaks Spanish, set the record straight for fans who may have been confused about her ethnic, racial, and national identity. The Grammy-Winning Rap Star took to her Instagram account to talk about the subject.

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Cardi B (Photo by: Eric Moore | Wiki Commons)
Cardi B (Photo by: Eric Moore | Wiki Commons)

By Keka Araujo

The conversation surrounding Latinos regarding ethnicity vs. race is an ongoing theme. Cardi B, a Black Latina who speaks Spanish, set the record straight for fans who may have been confused about her ethnic, racial, and national identity. The Grammy-Winning Rap Star took to her Instagram account to talk about the subject. On June 26th, Cardi addressed fans after a recent incident in California when someone told her she ought to represent for Mexican people.

She clarified that Latinos are not a monolith.

“A lot of people don’t know the difference between nationality, race, ethnicity and that’s not nobody’s fault,” she said on Instagram Live. “That’s actually the schools’ fault because schools don’t be teaching this s— to people.”

Elsewhere in the video, she said, “I’m not Mexican at all. I’m West Indian, and I’m Dominican. I speak Spanish because I’m Dominican. And it’s like, so what’s the difference between Dominican and Mexican?’ And it’s like, everything!”

Cardi went on to elaborate on her race in particular. She reiterated that being light-skinned does not mean that she isn’t a Black woman.

“People just don’t be understanding s–t,” Cardi said “It’s like, ‘Cardi’s Latin, she’s not Black.’ And it’s like, bro, my features don’t come from…White people f—ng, okay?’ And they always wanna race-bait when it comes to me…I have Afro features. ‘Oh, but your parents are light-skinned…all right, but my grandparents aren’t.” This situation isn’t the first time the rapper, who is Dominican and Trinidadian, has had to address comments about her race.

A common misconception about Latinos is because of the fact they speak Spanish they can’t be Black. Latinos are a group of people from different races brought together by Spanish or Portuguese colonization. It’s also a well-documented problem within the Latin community. Racism is prevalent among Latinos who are of African descent by other Latinos.

Quite often, Black Latinos have to prove their latinidad due to their race. It’s an ongoing challenge many Black Latinos face given the fact that countries like Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Panama have the highest populations of afrodescendientes in the Western Hemisphere.

Conversations from non-racially ambiguous Black Latinos have to continue so that people are more aware of the differences between ethnicity, race, and nationality.

This article originally appeared in the New Orleans Data News Weekly.

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FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival celebrates 25 years at Atlanta’s historic Tabernacle

ATLANTA VOICE —

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Photo by: Electrick Baby Photography | FunkJazz Kafe)

By Martel Sharpe

With its 25th anniversary on the horizon, Atlanta’s FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival is celebrating a quarter-of-a-century of artistic Black culture on Saturday, August 10 at The Tabernacle.

Just as vibrate as its creator and curator, Jason Orr, FunkJazz Kafé has survived throughout the years with 49 events under its belt, making its 25th anniversary the 50th.

“Essentially, FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival is about cultural prevention, cultural sustainability, cultural education, and cultural innovation,” Orr said. “We focus on various artistic disciplines as opposed to music performances. We are not a concert.”

“We just happen to have a cache of exceptional talent.”

Though FunkJazz Kafé is more than just a typical music festival, the event procured a host of iconic artists over the years including Goodie Mob, Outkast, Janelle Monae, Arrested Development, Soul II Soul, Jill Scott, Cee Lo Green, Erykah Badu, India Arie, Public Enemy, and more.

“We want to preserve the legacy of Black excellence in every artform whether its culinary arts or fashion pattern designing. We want to sustain those cultures and not let people take it from us as they have in the past, and we want to innovate upon it. Innovate upon these cultural legacies and educate the generations behind us about it,” Orr said.

The 48-year-old Atlanta native started FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival back in 1994 with its inaugural event taking place at Atlanta’s historic Royal Peacock on Auburn Avenue.

“It was awesome,” Orr said. “We had multiple vendors. We had great performances from Arrested Development, who in 94’ was like Anderson Paak. Then there was also Bone Cusher and leaders of the New School.”

According to Orr, what he has turned into a 25-year legacy started with a typical day for him, while working for the City of Atlanta at the time and managing a band.

“I got into the Royal Peacock because the guy gave it to me for free,” Orr said. “I was a tax collector for the City of Atlanta and the guy came in to pay his taxes, and he said, ‘I own this club you should come check it out.’”

“I wanted to create something that highlights other artists and musician. I knew a lot of fashion designers, I knew a lot of visual artists. People who did sculptures, people who did water-based paintings, people who did acrylic paintings, people who did pottery and handcrafted jewelry.”

As FunkJazz Kafé continued to grow, the mission stayed the same even though the venues changed.

Orr says that, in the past, the festival set up shop in some of Atlanta’s most notable locations including The Science & Technology Museum of Atlanta (SciTrek) which closed in 2004, Atlanta Stage Works which is now Krog Street Market, Nexus Contemporary Art Gallery which is now Atlanta Contemporary Art Gallery, the Nike Pavilion and World Club which was on Marietta Street.

“I would make venues,” Orr said, “It didn’t even have to be a venue, long as they had bathrooms and were approved for food and beverage, and fire permits, we were good.”

However, returning to The Tabernacle for its 25th anniversary is special for FunkJazz Kafé since it was the first event that ever took place within that space.

“We opened The Tabernacle in 1996 as it was the House of Blues,” Orr said. “FunkJazz Kafé did a partnership with Dallas Austin’s Rowdy Records. And we did the first event in what is now called The Tabernacle.”

Since then, FunkJazz Kafe has expanded, further tackle its mission to preserve Black culture and innovation through its award-winning film, “FunkJazz Kafe’s” Diary of A Decade” and producing the FJK Documentary Film Festival & Music Conference.

Beyond celebrating the arts, Orr also mandated that the festival would have a civic service initiative, creating a positive impact in the community.

“At the first one, we started our civic service initiative,” Orr said. “We were taking food donations for the homeless for a reduced price. It was $12 to get and we would take $5 off if you brought a canned good.”

“We kept that tradition and all the way up to today we’ve donated almost a million plates of food, (approximately) 900,030.”

However, Orr says that he plans to top himself this year with the 25th anniversary featuring various suites to festival-goers to enjoy.

These suites will feature various art forms including poetry, health and wellness, fashion, and different genres of music.

He’s very excited about the “House Party” suite which will simulate a 1980s house party and will change its music every 15 minutes to all people to enjoy hip-hop, reggae, afrobeat, house music, and more.

Additionally, the festival will have a vegan food court and up to 40 vendors participating in its marketplace.

And though it’s FunkJazz Kafé’s tradition to keep its roster of musical guests a secret until the day of, Orr says that he has a lot of great performers lined up and ready to go.

“We’re going to introduce new people that some people don’t know and we’re going to celebrate with some of our musical icons,” Orr said.

This article originally appeared in The Atlanta Voice.

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Black Fatherhood Shines in New Animated FIim

THE AFRO — For the most part, Historically, stories about Black fathers in mainstream media often carry a misleading, yet pervasive tones of absenteeism, hyper masculinity, insensitivity, and irresponsibility, monolithic. But this week, the beauty of Black Fatherhood debuts. But this is narrative does not fairly represent the role of the Black fatherhood.

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The picture book “Hair Love” was released by Kokila Books/Penguin Random House releasing on May 14, 2019, and became a New York Times Bestseller. (Courtesy Photo)

By AFRO Staff

For the most part, Historically, stories about Black fathers in mainstream media often carry a misleading, yet pervasive tones of absenteeism, hyper masculinity, insensitivity, and irresponsibility, monolithic. But this week, the beauty of Black Fatherhood debuts. But this is narrative does not fairly represent the role of the Black fatherhood.

Hair Love is a heartfelt animated short film that centers around the relationship between an African-American father, his daughter Zuri, and the most daunting task a father could ever come across – doing his daughter’s hair. The short, a passion project from Matthew A. Cherry, will be making its theatrical debut in North America on Aug. 14.

Directed by Cherry (executive producer, “BlacKkKlansman”), Everett Downing Jr. (animator, “Up,” “WALL·E”), and Bruce W. Smith (creator, “The Proud Family,” animator, “The Princess and the Frog”), Hair Love is a collaboration with Sony Pictures Animation that was launched as a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 with a fundraising goal of $75,000. Strong support led to the campaign amassing nearly $300,000, making it the most highly-funded short film campaign in Kickstarter history.

“To see this project go from a Kickstarter campaign to the big screen is truly a dream come true,” said Cherry. “I couldn’t be more excited for ‘Hair Love’ to be playing with ‘The Angry Birds Movie 2’ in front of a wide audience and for the world to see our touching story about a Black father trying to figure out how to do his daughters hair for the very first time.”

“Hair Love” features the voice of Issa Rae (“Insecure”) as the young girl’s mother. The short is produced by Karen Rupert Toliver, Stacey Newton, Monica A. Young, Matthew A. Cherry, and Lion Forge Animation’s David Steward II and Carl Reed. Peter Ramsey (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) and Frank Abney (animator, “Toy Story 4”) serve as executive producers.

“This is such a special story that means so much to us,” added Ramsey, “Matthew has rallied an insanely talented group of people to get this short made, and to be able to share it with the world is a gift. We hope that audiences can feel this team’s dedication up on the big screen, we are incredibly proud of it.”

The short’s co-executive producers include Jordan Peele, Andrew Hawkins, Harrison Barnes, Yara and Keri Shahidi. The short’s associate producers include N’Dambi Gillespie, Gabrielle Union-Wade & Dwayne Wade Jr., Gabourey Sidibe, Stephanie Fredric and Claude Kelly.

Physical production of “Hair Love” has taken place at the Los Angeles-based animation studio, Six Point Harness (“Guava Island”).

The picture book “Hair Love” was released by Kokila Books/Penguin Random House releasing on May 14, 2019, and became a New York Times Bestseller.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

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The 5th Annual Black Alumni Ball is back in the Nation’s Capital Striving to Advance, Unify and Uplift in the name of Black Excellence

WASHINGTON INFORMER — In its fifth year, the Black Alumni Ball is gearing up to be an impactful evening of celebration with nearly 2,000 Black Alumni on August 10, 2019. The ball will be held from 8 PM-2 AM at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC. It will be hosted by The Massive Host, King Flexxa, with the soundtrack being provided by Nate Hopp and Jerome Baker III and LIVE entertainment will be delivered by Johnny Graham & the Groove. In addition, the VIP reception will be sponsored by Hennessy.

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Black Alumni Ball (Photo by: washingtoninformer.com)

By Cherrelle Swain

Washington, DC – August 9, 2019 – In its fifth year, the Black Alumni Ball is gearing up to be an impactful evening of celebration with nearly 2,000 Black Alumni on August 10, 2019. The ball will be held from 8 PM-2 AM at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC. It will be hosted by The Massive Host, King Flexxa, with the soundtrack being provided by Nate Hopp and Jerome Baker III and LIVE entertainment will be delivered by Johnny Graham & the Groove. In addition, the VIP reception will be sponsored by Hennessy.

In 2018, the Black Alumni Ball team debuted the Inaugural class of their Influencer program with 15 dynamic individuals who are shining examples of being a game-changer, an individual who is shifting the culture and being an example of excellence. In 2019, the class will grow with the addition of 17 individuals being inducted.

They are as follows: Christian Brown (Howard University Alumna, Owner of Rise Enterprises LLC), Christian Howard (Clark Atlanta University Alumna, Psychotherapist Consultant), Jessica T. Ornsby, Esq (Georgetown University Law Center, Founder of A+O Law Group), Marcus Goodwin (The University of Pennsylvania Alumnus, Founder of The CEO Program), Charles Gussom (University of District of Columbia Alumnus, Community Development Manager, Martha’s Table), Byron Westbrook (Salisbury University Alumnus, Former NFL Player, Head Coach, and Podcaster), Lilybelle Davis (University of Maryland/Columbia Law School Alumna, Corporate Law Attorney), Carrington D. Barbour (Palomar College Alumnus, CEO, JustCarrington), Deanna Collins (Morgan State University Alumna, Founder, The Pretty Girls Guide), Shanae McFadden (Delaware State University Alumna, Blogger, Owner of Sensational Statements, and Podcaster), Dr. Amber Robins (Xavier University of Louisiana Alumna, Board Certified Family Medicine Doctor), Sydney Mikel Pearsall (Delaware State University Alumna, Owner, Part & Parcel, and Podcaster), Chauntay Mickens (University of Connecticut Alumna, Co-Founder and President of Lunchbag Social), Shelly Bell (North Carolina A&T State University Alumna, Founder, Black Girl Ventures), Rontel Batie (Florida A&M Alumnus, Lobbyist), Anwaa Kong (Morgan State University Alumnus, Founder, MVEMENT App & Serial Entrepreneur) and Matt Aaron (Howard University Alumnus, Founder, Aaron Financial)

Collectively, the Black Alumni Ball team states, “We can’t believe we are in our 5th year of the Ball. We are so grateful to have the unwavering support within the Black Alumni community, and we are looking forward to continuing to celebrate Black Excellence! It is our goal to create a dialogue on the importance of uplighting one another and wanting to unify as a unit to help one another advance in the future.

The Black Alumni Ball is an annual event whose mission is to bring black alumni from all universities throughout the nation, including both PWI’s (Predominantly White Institutions) and HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), for a night of sophistication, style, and fun. In addition to a magical evening, a portion of all proceeds will be provided to a Non-Profit Organization in the Washington, DC Metropolitan area from the Black Alumni Ball Scholarship Fund.

This post originally appeared in The Washington Informer.

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Attendees on What They Thought of City’s Inaugural Freedom Fest

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — The festival offered a balance of entertainment and education. Performers included Birmingham talents Ruben Studdard and Alvin Garrett as well as Huntsville hip hop artist Translee. Others included gospel artist Kristen Glover, neo soul artist Love Moor, soul group Midnight Star, hip hop soul artist Musiq Soulchild, and hip-hop duo 8Ball & MJG.

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From left: Kenneth Marbry II; Kenneth Marbry III; Amariya Marbry and Patrice Marbry during Freedom Fest (Photo by: Ameera Steward | The Birmingham Times)
From left: Kenneth Marbry II; Kenneth Marbry III; Amariya Marbry and Patrice Marbry during Freedom Fest (Photo by: Ameera Steward | The Birmingham Times)

By Ameera Steward

Local resident Marie Dixon got exactly what she was looking for when she attended the inaugural Birmingham Freedom Fest last weekend in Kelly Ingram Park.

“As a vegan I was worried I wasn’t going to find anything to eat,” said Dixon. “I had a …black bean burger it’s so good…[and] amazing.”

Dixon moved to Birmingham from Maryland 17 months ago and said the festival gave her a chance to interact with the community.

“I don’t come out as much as I should, so this has been a great opportunity to mix and mingle…,” she said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to be a part of the civil rights [institute] and all of the history that Birmingham has.”

The Freedom Fest drew thousands of people for a day long series of entertainment and empowerment in the heart of the Civil Rights District in downtown.

The festivities began at noon beneath a bright sun that illuminated colorful tents and food trucks that sold goods to the diverse crowd around Kelly Ingram Park.

The festival offered a balance of entertainment and education. Performers included Birmingham talents Ruben Studdard and Alvin Garrett as well as Huntsville hip hop artist Translee. Others included gospel artist Kristen Glover, neo soul artist Love Moor, soul group Midnight Star, hip hop soul artist Musiq Soulchild, and hip-hop duo 8Ball & MJG.

There was also an online contest where the residents of Birmingham voted on “Birmingham’s Emerging Artist” – Chrinway, a Bessemer city rapper.

The fest also gave attendees a chance to hear leaders and innovators in business, technology, beauty, the arts, and urban planning during seven empowerment sessions held in places like the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Panel discussions included the “Justice, Empathy and Advocacy” panel with Mayor Randall Woodfin, U.S. Senator Doug Jones, and Prison reform advocate Anthony Ray Hinton.

Visitors came away pleased by what they saw and heard. To some the festival was reminiscent of the past and for others it was a look into the future of Birmingham.

“I think this is a great event and it being the first year, I just wanted to come out and show some support,” said Dixon, who added she was glad to see the diverse crowds. “It’s about all of Birmingham and not just the African-American portion of Birmingham.”

“I was really proud to be in Birmingham on Saturday,” she said. “I was touched by the history of the Civil Rights District and proud to see how far Birmingham has come.”

LaTonya Roy, 47, originally from Anchorage, Alaska and who now lives in Birmingham said she was attracted to the fest because of the word “freedom…freedom of expression, freedom to connect with a diverse group of people.”

Roy said she was looking forward to “the entertainment, the panels, and the good weather that we’re having.”

“I love it,” said Jeremy Scott, 24, of Birmingham. “It’s brought out everybody in Birmingham, I hope they continue doing it so we can do this for years to come. I know it’s the first annual, I want it to be annual.”

Scott said he and his friends saw the event on Facebook and seeing a music festival in Birmingham was something different.

“We haven’t had a festival here in a long time,” he said. “The last time I came out for a music festival was [City Stages] so it’s been a while since I’ve seen…live talent in Birmingham but it’s been amazing.”

Scott said his favorite part was seeing Midnight Star, “I’m a big funk musician fan so I’m digging it right now.”

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Panel Discussions

Patrice Marbry, 39, of Chelsea, Ala. said she enjoyed the empowerment sessions.

“I like the idea of having the musical artists as well as the informational sessions,” she said.

Marbry is a board member of STREAM Innovations, a nonprofit organization that helps students develop and explore their passion for Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STREAM).  She attended the “Cracking Codes: The Power of STEM” panel discussion, held in St. Paul United Methodist Church to support the organization’s CEO, Dr. Adrienne Starks.

One thing she learned was the challenges faced by people of color who drop out of their PhD programs.

It was encouraging for young people to see people who look like them on the panel with PhDs  in front of their names, she said.

Another favorite was the “Justice, Empathy and Advocacy” panel, said Marbry, a regional middle school instructional coach at the University of Montevallo.

“Anthony Ray Hinton (was wrongly convicted of the 1985 murders of two fast food restaurant managers in Birmingham, sentenced to death, and held on the state’s death row for 28 years) called a lot of things the exact things that they are. As an educator I have been inclined to believe that education should be at the forefront of the Social Justice Movement.”

Scott attended the “She Decides: A Courageous Conversation about Women’s Rights” panel held in Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and said it was informative and it opened his eyes.

“I was kind of in the dark about everything but…I’m looking around and seeing what we need to change in the state, in the country, everywhere,” Scott said.

Jay Williams, 25, of Birmingham, also attended the “She Decides” panel. “We get to see what happens when women empower each other,” he said.

“I have been encouraged by seeing the turnout…I think that opportunities like this should come more to Birmingham [because] it’s just an opportunity for us to show what we have,” said Williams.

Leah Parker, 39, visiting Birmingham from Atlanta, Ga. said she enjoyed both the panels and the music.

“It’s nice to see everybody come out and just enjoy great music; everybody has been so friendly and positive,” she said. “And seeing what our city can really do . . . it’s great energy out here.”

“The music is great, you can’t beat it, live music, outside everybody is up dancing, everybody is having a memory when a song comes on, it’s been great,” she said. Her favorite part was “running into old friends and meeting some new friends.”

Vivian Davis, Alabama State Senator, said on the “She Decides” panel that women need to support one another.

“The more you share with others and you give up yourself to others the more your blessings will repeat the light onto you,” she said.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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