Community celebrations have always been an important part of the Black experience in America. Dating as far back as Juneteenth (or Jubilee Day) in 1866, when former slaves joined to celebrate the first anniversary of the two-year-late emancipation of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, Black people have been coming together to celebrate their culture, their communities and their freedom.
Here are some Black cultural festivals that promise distinctive experiences for group travelers.
Something in the Water
Created by Renaissance man and music mogul Pharrell Williams, Something in the Water showcases Black music, culture and art while highlighting diversity, community and empowerment for the youth and small businesses. With artist alumni such as Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Snoop Dogg, T.I. and more, the festival celebrates West Coast, East Coast and Southern rap. The Pop-Up Church Service has also included notable gospel artists like Kirk Franklin, Rev. John P. Kee and Mary Mary.
Upon its inception in 2019, Something in the Water was held in Virginia Beach, Virginia, to spotlight the area and the talent within it. Williams, being from Virginia, wanted to present his roots and peers to the world. Though the festival was not held in 2020, Williams kept its mission alive by campaigning for Juneteenth to become a paid holiday in Virginia. After succeeding in those efforts, he moved his sights to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Eventually, on June 17, 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday.
Brooklyn, New York
Like most in-person events, Afropunk took a hiatus in 2020 and 2021, then made its highly anticipated return September 10-11. Afropunk is a music, film, fashion and art festival that started in Brooklyn in 2005 and is now an international touring festival. It’s also regarded as one of the top festivals for fashion, style and self-expression.
The concept of the festival came from a documentary called “Afro-Punk,” which showcased Black people living the punk lifestyle. Originally, the Afropunk festival catered more to that crowd, with alternative punk music and entertainment. As the festival expanded, so did its music genres.
Today, Afropunk is bigger than ever, with top-tier musical performances from almost every genre. This year’s performers included The Roots, Isaiah Rashad and Earl Sweatshirt. Other attractions on the festival grounds were a marketplace with local vendors, a food garden called Bites n Beats and interactive activations by sponsoring brands.
Arizona Black Rodeo
The Arizona Black Rodeo, run by the Arizona Black Rodeo Association, is one of the biggest Black events in the state and is nicknamed “the hottest show on dirt”. It features national African American rodeo competitors and was formed to share the history and heritage of Black people in the Old West, as well as their impact on Western culture. Part of its mission is also to teach sportsmanship, equestrian skills and agriculture to the community, particularly to young people.
There is a lot of cultural interest in Black rodeo today, but this isn’t a fad. Black people have been involved in rodeos since rodeos existed. But they were not always allowed to be in the forefront, which is part of the reason Black rodeos were created.
Celebrating its 11th year in 2022, the Arizona Black Rodeo still holds true to its core values: youth, community, agriculture, education, health and entertainment. To help educate even more people, the Arizona Black Rodeo Association formed Black Rodeo USA, an organization that tours the United States
Black Arts Festival
In 1985, Kalamazoo’s Recreation Leisure and Cultural Affairs department helped plan and fund a downtown festival to promote Black arts and culture. Because of those efforts, the inaugural Black Arts Festival was held in August 1986 and was a great success. To keep attendees’ interest until the next year, some of the original organizers, Gail Sydnor, Lois Jackson and James C. Palmier, decided to create a committee to promote Black art year round. So, the Black Arts and Cultural Committee (now the Black Arts and Culture Center) was formed.
The committee continued to grow, eventually exceeding its original purpose. By 1990, the committee had its own building and was launching and supporting art exhibits, plays, dances, movies, events, and various classes and became the Black Arts and Cultural Center of Kalamazoo. In 2001, the center moved to a new building.
The 2022 edition was the 36th anniversary of the festival, during which local and international artists media showcase their work each year. There are even technology events now. And the event stays focused on its original mission: to “develop human potential, self esteem and creativity among Blacks of all ages in the Kalamazoo Community, advance the awareness of Black artistic ability and to preserve Black cultural heritage.”
Special musical guests perform each year, with 2022’s headliners being R&B solo artists Sammie and Tweet. This festival is free during the day and has an entry fee in the evening to control capacity.
Black Cultural Festival
Eugene’s Black Cultural Festival was created by event producer Talicia Brown-Crowell for people of African descent in Oregon and surrounding areas to be able to celebrate and embrace their Black culture and heritage.
While attending other long-established festivals and events in Oregon, Talicia noticed her culture and people weren’t being adequately represented. Then in 2019 at Beloved Festival, she stumbled upon a Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) sanctuary for people of color to come rest. She found herself visiting the sanctuary multiple times, finding refuge and solidarity. After this experience, she realized how much the lack of BIPOC-centered events was taking a toll on her.
So, Brown-Crowell formed a planning and production team, and in August 2021, the inaugural Black Cultural Festival was held at Alton Baker Park in Eugene, Oregon. The second annual festival took place this August. The growing festival has been funded and sponsored by mostly Black-owned businesses, with its first year’s attendee demographic being 85% people of color. While there was an entry fee, they informed hopeful festivalgoers that no one of African descent would be turned away, even without the means to pay.
At the Black Cultural Festival, visitors can expect artists, vendors, food, entertainment, local Black-owned businesses and much more.
Afro Utah Festival
Salt Lake City
The Afro Utah Festival took place for the second time this year. It was created to celebrate African American culture and heritage with food, dance, art and community. This festival is organized by the GK Folks Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Salt Lake City that focuses on education, empowerment, entrepreneurship and mental health resources for African descendants.
Debuting in August 2021, the Afro Utah Festival sought to bring together African Americans, Black immigrants and those of African descent to spotlight their art, culture and food, as well as to promote equity, inclusion and diversity. The festival’s organizers sought to create an accurate and inspirational understanding of Black people and their contribution to the Utah community. The 2022 festival was held September 24 and had a sizable turnout, showing a great want for something like this in the city.
Due to the increase in the Black population in Utah, Afro Utah organizers felt it was important to educate the community about Black culture while also giving the new Black community a safe space to celebrate and embrace their own culture as well.