African American Festival Saturday

This year the African American Heritage Project of Blair County will hold it’s 20th annual African American Heritage Festival at Penn State Altoona on Saturday.

Opening the festival will be a presentation at noon honoring Altoona businessman Charlie Smith, a barber who ran his own shop in the 1940s at 1476 Union Ave., Altoona, and had other shops in the city.

Smith also was a volunteer at the Altoona Hospital. His family will honor Smith, who is now 91 years old.

“The family wants to recognize what he did before he passes on. They want to say thanks for all that he has done for the community,” said Harriet Gaston, president of the African American Heritage Project.

Music performances in many different genres such as Gospel, African drumming, Rap, R&B and doo-wop will be present.

“There will be mostly music that will celebrate the range of African American experience,” Gaston said.

Deehja Marie, who performed at the first festival in 1994 at Garfield Park in Altoona, will be returning to the area. She is an Altoona native who is now a performer in California.

“Now I want to go home to see my family and perform for them,” said Marie.

Also returning to the festival are the Southside Steppers from York. Regular attendees will be familiar with their performances.

“Stepping is an art form, militaristic, that oftentimes African-American fraternities and sororities utilize when they get together. It’s a way to show that they are better than the other. It’s the Southside Steppers who use it as a way to reach out to young to incorporate some discipline,” said Gaston. ” They will grab your attention.”

She said performers as young as 6 years old can be seen doing the steps with precision, and performers can be as old as 17.

Ibeji Drum Ensemble from Pittsburgh, which performs traditional West African music, has been performing at the festival since 2005, and will be performing once again this year.

“We don’t believe in an audience our performance time will be transformed into an African Village. We will “teach” a song in an African language and members of the village will be asked to join us on stage to learn a few Western dance moves,” said Beatrice Mitchell, the leader of the group.

Another returning group is the House of Soul who will perform at 6:30 p.m.

“Those looking for a chance to dance will enjoy this performance,” said Gaston. “They are a group from Pittsburgh and they bring the party.”

Other performers are New Creation Ministry Choir and T. Sawyer.

There also will be a local showcase with Team Turn Up, Mia Newman and Al Futrell.

Exhibits with pictures from past festivals and pictures of people from the community will be available. And booths will offer information on health, registering to vote and the NAACP.

As far as food goes there will be both ethnic African American food and traditional festival food.

“Again the food will represent the African-American experience,” said Gaston. “However you can get your funnel cakes, but if your looking for ribs, you can find that too.

Daniel D’Lion, sponsored by Reliance Bank, will be at the festival to host the activities for the children. He is a mascot whose program has a positive Christian focus.

“We are very thankful to our sponsors such as Penn State Altoona, Sheetz and many others. Without their support we could not hold this festival,” Gaston said.