San Diego Kuumba Fest returns next weekend as a virtual event
The three-day African-American celebration and ‘edu-tainment’ event streams Friday through Feb. 28
For the first time in its 29-year history at San Diego Repertory Theatre, the San Diego Kuumba Fest next weekend will be a three-day virtual event.
But even though the annual celebration of African American culture, music, dance and leadership will be presented online Friday through Feb. 28, founder and artistic director Dajahn Blevins promises an extravaganza of what he calls “edu-tainment.”
“So far I’m blown away with what we’ve got,” Blevins said. “With everything shut down, people think all the work they’re doing has been put on hold. But now that we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, our battle cry is back to action.”
This year’s festival theme is “Black 2 Action Not in Vain.” Blevins said this represents the restart of his organization’s theatrical programming after an 11-month pandemic-related shutdown. He said it’s been a hard time to sit on the sidelines creatively since the killing of George Floyd on May 25 and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The whole world stood up for us after what happened to George Floyd. It’s time for us to reinvest in ourselves,” he said. “The Royal Court opening night will be like a renewal of our vows that we’re back to action in the struggle for liberty and freedom and justice and the dismantling of systemic racism.”
The roots for Kuumba Fest were sown nearly 35 years when Urban Warriors — a coalition of Black actors and volunteers led by Blevins — formed a youth, family and community development program at Horace Mann Middle School. As a juvenile hall diversion program, 16 at-risk Black students were enrolled in a group mentoring program where they learned skills of creativity and self-determination. If they completed the work and got good grades, the students would have the opportunity to create and tell their own stories at a year-end community celebration of edu-tainment, a mix of education and entertainment.
The program expanded to Black youths at schools citywide. It also began serving the students’ parents, since Blevins said many of the children’s problems could be traced back to problems at home caused by their parents’ substance abuse or other issues. Some of the year-round programming aimed to build stronger parents and families include a town hall meeting, a Black family day and a fashion show and talent showcase. The organization also offers Saturday school for Black cultural education and lessons in Swahili (Kuumba means “creativity” in Swahili).
“They’re so busy doing positive things they don’t have time to go back to those old behaviors and can see the beauty of their children in a home that is building community through positivity,” he said.
Since 1993, Kuumba Fest has been presented at the Lyceum Theatre by Urban Warriors and the African American Advisory Council for San Diego Rep. This year, San Diego Repertory Theatre is joining as a full producing partner. Usually Kuumba Fest draws an audience of 3,500 to 5,000 people for a mix of music, theater, dance, workshops, arts and craft sales and recognition of Black community leaders.
This year’s festival will open as it always has with the “Night of Positive Images” recognition ceremony, and it will close with the traditional gospel finale, but most of the other programming this year was developed for an online audience. Admission to stream the festival is free, but registration is required with a suggested donation of $15 per day at sdrep.org/kuumba.
Friday, Feb. 26
“Night of Positive Images”: Annual royal court community honorees are Dr. Wilma Wooten, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, Jacqueline Jackson and Mardell Matthews. 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 27
Kuumba Kids “African American Person Chant”: Saturday school, community-based programs, Black boys mentoring with Dajahn Blevins. 12:30 p.m.
Effective Black media virtual panel discussion: Ahmed K. Dents moderates a program on how Black media aids in ushering Black art into the future. 1 p.m.
Taste of Soul San Diego with Deshonda Roberts: San Diego’s Ujamaa (“cooperative economics” in Swahili) discussion features top Black-owned and -operated restaurants and Black cooks in San Diego. 2 p.m.
Dance showcase: Obesity prevention performances coordinated by Stay Entertainment: Fitness showcase with Shanna Franklin. 3 p.m.
“R New Home: Live in the Zoo”: Excerpts from a new play by Earl Hamilton Jr., performed by Community Actors Theatre. 4 p.m.
Preserving Black Art Museums: Virtual panel discussion with Leah Goodwin and Yvette Moore. 6 p.m.
“The Parade of History”: Great kings and queens bring the Black museum to life. 7 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 28
Postage stamp unveiling: The U.S. Postal Service will unveil a new heritage stamp, with Wendy Dorsey. 2 p.m.
“Preaching the Blues”: Maisha S. Akbar discusses the importance of the black feminist artist in lynching culture and interdisciplinary scholarship. 2:30 p.m.
Virtual Gospel Artist New Release Showcase: Presented by Mandate Records. 4 p.m.
— Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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