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Festival celebrates conclusion of activities

The 36th Juneteenth Festival wrapped up this weekend after almost a month of community activities celebrating African-American heritage and the ending of slavery in the United States.

The Juneteenth celebration, held every year in Martin Luther King Park, kicked off June 5 with a "Run for Health," followed by a guided bus tour highlighting the city's historical sights and the Sankofa Days weeklong events that led into the festival, which begins and ends with a "prayer in the park."

"We just can't squeeze all of the events people want into one weekend," said Marcus Brown, festival president.

Brown has been involved with the festival since its inception in 1976. Since then, Brown said, the amount of people taking part in the celebration has grown over the years and now encompasses a larger section of the park.

This year's theme, "Breaking the Invisible Chains," he said, is meant to empower younger African-Americans to take control of their future and make the most of their opportunities.

"The most important thing for us is trying to bring in the youth," said Brown. "We're not getting any younger so we want to pass the torch to them so everyone can keep enjoying the festival."

"The festival more than exceeded my expectations," said newcomer Krystal Patricia. "I thought the weekend would be more of a marketing than a selling weekend, but fortunately it turned out to be both."

Patricia, 28, moved to Buffalo from New York City about 10 months ago to attend D'Youville College. The biology major said she started out making up baskets and doing party planning as a hobby a few years ago and just recently started her own business from home called Lady BasketCase.

Joyce Obianwu, who was one of the first vendors to travel from Africa to sell goods at the festival, said that when she started there were only a few Africans and the sales were impressive. A native of Nigeria and retired beautician, Obianwu said she now focuses primarily on selling ethnic garments that she personally designs right down to the fabric.

"I haven't done as well as in years past," she said. "But a lot of Buffalonians love my designs and always come back to see me year after year and that's my satisfaction."

For Odell Hatten, 87, a World War II veteran and retired construction worker, it was just another beautiful day in Buffalo surrounded by his friends and neighbors in a celebration that means a great deal to him. Having been to many Juneteenth Festivals, Hatten said it's something he looks forward to every year.

"I've traveled all over the country and this is one of the best festivals there is," the former paratrooper said.

Although attendance was down a bit from Saturday, the entertainment stage still drew a large crowd Sunday that danced and sang along with several local musical acts like the Old School B Boys, a band that Marcus Brown sings in.

"We have so many talented youth in Buffalo, from performers to organizers," said Brown. "We need to give them the opportunity to bring out their creative energy and utilize their talents."

Related photos on the Picture Page, C10.

e-mail: emazzu@buffnews.com

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