On Monday, September 30, 2013, over 700 attendees joined Mayor Vincent C. Gray at the 4th Annual DC African Heritage Celebration held at the historic Howard Theatre to celebrate African Heritage Month, commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the African Union, and pay to tribute to exceptional leaders in the District’s African community.
“I am very proud that this is the second year that our city joins numerous jurisdictions around the country in proclaiming September as African Heritage Month in recognition of the unique contributions made by the tens of thousands of Africans residing in the District of Columbia” Mayor Gray said. “I know that our African community is extremely diverse, both linguistically and culturally, so it is wonderful to see all of them come together today to represent, share and showcase their cultures and contributions to the larger District community.”
Hosted by the Mayor’s Office on African Affairs in partnership with the DC Commission on Arts & Humanities (DCCAH), the 4th Annual DC African Heritage Celebration welcomed hundreds of guests with the aromas of the vibrant Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony beautifully demonstrated by DC-based Askale Café and a lively reception with DJ Underdog.
Emcee’d by Voice of America broadcast journalist, Ndimayake Mwakalyelye, the program kicked off with drumming and a lively performance by the Balafone West African Dance Ensemble and remarks from Office on African Affairs Director, Ngozi Nmezi, who aptly described the celebration as “one of the District’s most anticipated African cultural events drawing thousands of attendees and unifying diverse communities in DC through African art, culture, history, and music while showcasing the burgeoning contributions that Africans make to the vitality of the city!” She was followed by Emira Woods, Co-Director of Foreign Policy from Institute for Policy Studies who, in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the African Union, paid tribute to past leaders and reflected on key lessons to draw in thinking about the kind of leadership needed to propel the community forward for the next 50 years.
To highlight leaders of the new era that are paving the way by working to strengthen the District and its growing African community, Mayor Gray presented awards to seven exceptional leaders for their contributions in seven different categories: Angelle Kwemo in Public Service, Tereguebode Goungou in Community Organizing, Tamrat Medhin in Panafrican Bridge Building, Anthony Chuukwu in Institution Building, Henok Tesfaye in Business, Assante Konte in Cultural Education and Aniekan Udofia in Arts. [See individual bios for details on background and accomplishments] Numerous Cabinet members including DC Office of Community Affairs Director Steve Glaude, DCCAH Director Lionell Thomas, DC Small & Local Business Development Acting Director Robert Summers and DC Office of Grants & Partnerships Director Lafayette Barnes introduced the awardees and joined the Mayor in presenting the awards. Other award presenters included Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) representative, Eric Williams, African-American Civil War Museum Assistant Director Hari Jones, and son of the late Chinua Achebe, Chidi Achebe.
Peppered throughout the program was an eclectic mix of performances ranging from traditional African acts to fusion sounds that showcased the many new ways that Africans are reinterpreting for example hip hop, jazz, and rock to birth new sounds and movements that richly express their stories and evolving identities. Powerful and captivating performances by headlining Ethiopian rock group Jano Band, Eme & Heteru, Balafon West African Dance Company, Loide, Ana Mwalagho, Waterflow Wageble, and Pages Matam collectively represented a unique blend of music and art from the African diaspora that’s continuing to enrich the artistic and cultural scene in the District.
The Mayor’s Office on African Affairs is deeply appreciative of the support from our major partners: DC Commission on Arts & Humanities, DC Office of Human Rights, and DC Office of Community Affairs; our corporate donors: AmeriHealth District of Columbia, U Street Parking, Ethiopian Airlines, Dantes Partners, MetroLab, Compass Solutions, and our community supporters: NebFoto Photography, Jah Kente International, Inc. and the Ethiopian African 2000 Millennium Group.