Festival headliner act: pride

The Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival kicks off, offering culture and fun. Last year, 30,000 attended.

Published January 15, 2006

TAMPA - The wind knocked over a few folding chairs, but that didn't faze Rickey Williams.

"Are you ready to get into it?" Williams, drum major of the Busch Gardens Mystic Sheiks of Morocco band, called to the crowd at Saturday's Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival street fair.

Williams was ready. He and the band danced and played James Brown's I Feel Good while audience members at Al Lopez Park clapped and yelled back, "Yeah!" and "I got you!" The Sheiks, a brass and drum band, kicked off the day of history. People came to the park Saturday to shop, eat and be entertained by musical groups, including Midnight Star and the Bar-Kays.

Kami Grooms of Tampa also came to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"We can live on in his memory and just never forget him," Grooms said as she geared up to watch the Sheiks perform.

Vendors worked through cool temperatures and blustery winds to sell crafts, jewelry, paintings, black history T-shirts, traditional African garments, pure African shea butter, and food including barbecue, ice cream and funnel cakes.

Ken Baker and Kenneth Cage drove to Florida from Indianapolis to sell catfish and chicken wings. Baker said he was hoping for "lots of customers and a lot less wind."

The weeklong Tampa festival debuted in 2001 to give attendees an opportunity to learn about black culture and history. Last year, the festival drew 30,000 people. The Southeast Tourism Society lists the cultural celebration among its Top 20 events of 2006.

Charles Henderson, who has been to similar festivals at home in New York, headed south just for Tampa's events.

"In New York, they have a lot of festivals, but I wanted to see what a state like Florida would be doing for Martin Luther King Jr. day," said Henderson, who planned to attend all events throughout the week.

The street festival will continue from noon to 6 p.m. today at the park next to Raymond James Stadium. R&B and gospel singer Oleta Adams is scheduled to perform.

On Monday, the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs will host a Martin Luther King Jr. leadership breakfast starting at 6:45 a.m. at the downtown Hyatt Regency. There will be a golf tournament later that day, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

The entertainment aspect of the festival is fun, but "black history is more than just black people dancing on a stage," said festival emcee and volunteer Lace Mobley. "Every day is black history if you have pride in yourself."