Community comes together in celebration of its heritage
By Desiree Laws Moore
Thunderstorms were forecasted all weekend. The rains came but only in the forms of drizzle and a couple of quick showers and the 2003 Eastern Shore AFRAM Festival went on without a hitch this past weekend. Nutter Park in Seaford on Friday and Saturday was filled with close to a thousand people who enjoyed great entertainment, delicious food from a variety of vendors, and informative exhibits, as well as a good deal of sunshine.
“God is so good!” exclaimed City Councilwoman Pat A. Jones, who chaired the planning committee for the AFRAM Festival. “It rained all around us but it did not rain on our parade. I am almost at a loss for words because the festival was better than I ever anticipated.”
The last Seaford festival to celebrate the African-American culture was held in 1999. Jones chaired the festival in the past prior to the four-year hiatus and believes without a doubt that this year’s festival has been the best yet.
“A project like this is really time consuming but in the end it is all worth it,” said Jones. “When you look around and see everyone enjoying the product, you know it is definitely worth it through it all.”
“The committee really pulled together to make this event happen,” continued Jones. “We worked together and worked hard and did what needed to be done. All of the committee members should be commended. We truly know that hard work does pay off.”
The committee made history for Seaford by planning a Little Mr. and Little Miss AFRAM pageant on Friday night and by having a parade through East Seaford on Saturday morning.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of the festival was the display of African-American talent from our young people in the pageant,” said Jones. “To see these youngsters be rewarded for coming forward and expressing themselves was very touching.”
The pageant contestants were judged on their attire, talent, and an interview question. The Seaford Federal Credit Union was the sponsor for the pageant and employees were the judges. Each contestant received a gift bag and the winners were crowned and got a sash. The winners were: Jr. Little Miss AFRAM, Daisjah Williams of Seaford; Little Miss AFRAM, Zoe Laws of Seaford; Jr. Little Mr. AFRAM, Tyrone Jenkins-Heath of Laurel; and Little Mr. AFRAM, Jamil Moore of Seaford.
On Saturday, the day’s events began with a parade. This landmark event started at Frederick Douglass Elementary School and went up Poplar Street and then north on North Street to Nutter Park. Residents of East Seaford lined North Street to witness this historic event along with some employees of Nanticoke Memorial Hospital who took their break from work to walk over and see the parade start. The parade’s grand marshal was longtime Seaford Councilman Henry Nutter. Councilwoman Jones was at Nutter Park as the parade approached.
“When the police escort of the parade turned the corner, I was in awe,” Jones said. “It was a spectacular site to see. It was the first time in my lifetime that I can remember anything coming through our community like that and I think people are going to look forward to the parade in years to come. Although the parade was small with only 10 entries this year it was monumental and, we are sure that it is going to get bigger and better at future festivals.”
At noon on Saturday, the opening ceremony was a tribute to Henry Nutter, who served on the city council of Seaford for over 34 years. State Rep. Tina Fallon, Seaford Mayor Dan Short, city council members Ed Butler, Larry Miller, and Grace Peterson, and Seaford Chief of Police Gary Morris were part of the ceremony. The Sankofa Drummers and Dancers of Dover performed a traditional West African ceremony of tribute. A similar ceremony is performed in West African countries to honor the elders of the village. A huge umbrella was held over Nutter, the honoree; Jones, the festival chairperson, and Mayor Short as they led the AFRAM ceremony that encircled the stage area of the festival to the beats of the drummers who have studied the art of African drumming.
The umbrella is a symbol of respect. Those who followed the umbrella were the festival’s planning committee, the political dignitaries, and then the Sankofa dancers. After the march, Nutter was seated in a chair and still covered in the umbrella and the tribute began. Rep. Fallon presented a proclamation, Mayor Short spoke on behalf of the city and the AFRAM committee presented him with a plaque.
“Henry did not talk a lot at meetings,” said Short. “But when he did speak, we all listened, and I found him to be precise, distinct, and very, very right.”
“I think we really touched Henry Nutter by paying tribute to him,” said Councilwoman Jones. “It was truly well deserved. He has planted many seeds, and he can now see the crop and all that is around him.”
Nutter was moved close to tears when poet Henry Wilson of Greenwood read a poem he wrote about him entitled “Henry Nutter - The Quiet Giant.” He told AFRAM committee members that he was truly humbled and honored and did not know what else could be said after the city officially dedicated the park in his name.
Other highlights of the festival included the display of a life-sized figurine of George Washington Carver from the Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore. Also, Vii Services of Piscataway, New Jersey set up an exhibit booth that showcased African-American firsts in inventions in accomplishments. Nutter and Jones are going to be added to the exhibit for Delaware displays in the very near future for being the first black and first black female elected to Seaford’s city council.
In the entertainment arena, festival goers are still talking about performances from The Faithful Ones, a creative movement troupe from New Coverdale Outreach Mission in Bridgeville, the R&B group Denim from Salisbury, and John The Baptist, a Christian rapper who performed on both Friday and Saturday nights.
Vendors and entertainers were well received and many are anxiously anticipating returning to next year’s festival. Those attending the festival were also impressed with the event and more than 20 people have signed up to work on the planning committee for next year’s event. NaTasha and Julius Mullen of Seaford brought their four children to the festival for the first time this year.
“I thought the festival was rich in culture and well connected in terms of the youth involvement,” said Julius. “I was impressed with that connection because it is always a challenge getting young people to attend and participate. I also think it was well organized and managed very well. It was a joyous event and I look forward in being involved with the planning for next year. It was so great that I think it should be an exploration into extending the festival to three days.”
“The festival was also very appropriate in terms of the mixture of contemporary and traditional gospel music and the mix of the R&B performers,” Mullen continued. “I think that activated another population of youth to attend and participate.”
The Mullen’s 10 and 11 year old sons, Juwan and Julius, agreed with their father. They thought the festival was fun and Julius said that the committee was creative in the way they mixed the music types.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to come together,” NaTasha said. “The music was great and it let the kids see that there are many different ways to praise God other than the traditional ways.”
Planning for the 2004 AFRAM Festival will begin in October. Those interested in helping may call Jones at 628-1908.
News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories
to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.