African Festival Mixes Traditional Food, Vendors, Artists with Steppin’
Norman Parish | 9/9/2015, 1:04 p.m.
At least twice a month, Felise McGee says he enjoys his favorite form of exercise: stepping.
On Friday night, the Chicago Bronzeville neighborhood man joined dozens of others for his favorite activity at the 26th Annual African Festival of the Arts (AFA) at Washington Park at 51st Street and Cottage Grove.
This was the first year the festival included a Chicago Steppin’ Party and Show. This was also the first time McGee attended the celebration.
“I came this year because I love to step,” said McGee, 56, a correctional officer after dancing to the song, ‘I Cried All the Way Home.’ “I always drove by the festival and I never stopped until this year. I’m enjoying myself.”
Like the African Festival, other events have included stepping sessions for the first time this year to attract more adults.
For example, stepping also was included for the first time in July at the annual Arts and Crafts Festival at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl.
“Stepping is growing,” said Ken Bedford, a promoter of stepper events in Chicago. “We like bringing stepping to major events because it was made in Chicago.”
Before stepping started in the 1960s and 1970s, it was bopping, Bedford said.
“We are happy to open up a dance floor for stepping,” Bedford said.
Chicago group, Magnum Force, best known for steppers’ classic tune, “Share My Love” performed at the celebration.
Much of the festival, however, is transformed into a traditional-styled African village. The festival, one of the largest Diaspora events of its kind in the U.S., features arts, food, fashion, and entertainment. The event included a Drum & African Folk Village; Children and Family Pavilion; a Wellness Village; Author & Book Pavilion and Fine Art Pavilion.
Rhythm and blues singer Jeffrey Osborne performed Monday night. This year, U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th District) served as Grand BaBa (father) and Veranda Dickens, board chair of Seaway Bank & Trust Co., served as Grand YeYe (mother).
The Chicago Citizen Newspaper was a sponsor of the festival.
Aside from the entertainment venues, one of the more popular attractions at the fest was the section featuring visual artists.
Artist Edwin Lester, of Philadelphia, said he regularly displays his paintings at the festival. He said he makes $3,000 to $6,000 at the event.
Lester also explained that he needs to make more than $2,000 to clear his costs for the art show. He sells mostly reproductions of his paintings
“You have to make what you spend,” said Lester, 48. “A lot of people come here to get art and see artists from around the country.”
Artist Abdul Badi, 61, of Brooklyn, New York, said he came to display his paintings for the first time this year.
“I heard about this for years but I never made it here,” Badi said. “I love exhibiting my work. I sold my first painting when I was 14.”