Twenty-years ago it spanned the entire Henry Meir Festival Grounds. Tough social times in Milwaukee’s Black community that spilled over from the 1980s, entrenching the 1990s and 2000s, eventually dried African World Festival to dust. Over the past three years, African World Festival has made a quiet comeback carried by the regular everyday-working, tax-paying, and unheralded Black people that the mainstream Milwaukee media outlets tend to forget reside North of I-94 and live typical American lives.
The bivouacs of local and national independent vendors have strengthened with renewed enterprising energy. Ample traditional African jewelry, clothing and accessories lend roots to contemporary artisan jewelry and fashion, silver craft and high style fedoras capturing attention easily. A mature selection of jazz and R&B musicians keeps things family friendly and mature.
Last year, anybody writing African World Festival off missed out on a classic afternoon performance by Roy Ayers. Today, Milwaukee’s R.A.S Movement, headlined by American Idol phenom Niama Adedapo, upbeats the stage (I got conflicting show times one says it happened already and one says 8p, but definitely worth a cover on some other occasion) and at 10p tonight Angie Stone brings some neo-oldy but goodies to the microphone. Many other performances of R&B and Gospel will also coincide with what is touted to be the largest Step Music DJ set in Milwaukee yet.
R.A.S Movement at the High Noon Saloon, Madison via NickyRondinelli
…And of course you can eat. Southern style food is the flavor of the day and night, and plenty of festival corn stands are around to compete with Wisconsin State Fair. Available Pan-African cuisine takes fair goers taste buds abroad.
Graciously and earnestly, Mayor Tom Barrett took time out of his Saturday afternoon to declare the first weekend in August African World Festival days. African World Festival ends tonight at midnight and opens again tomorrow at noon.
Additional Note: Despite what the JSOnline reported the Festival admission is $17 (not $12) which I was still happy to pay.
African World Festival picks up steam, Yolanda White, Shepherd Express
Thursday night, somewhere deep in Riverwest a menace was brewing. It gained strength like a festering carbuncle with no medical attention and exploded on the corner of Kilbourn and Van Buren during the close of Bastille Days.
Blocking the road, 38 or so co-ed 20-somethings wear nothing but under-roos and their bicycle seats (as in tighty-whities, bras and panties, except that dude in the super tight cuffed-to-the-upper-thigh denim shorts). With a primitive loud hipster mumble for a go signal, they rode-off down Van Buren on their fixed-gear bicycles yelling non-sense like “Hail Satan” and “Bastille Days Suck”. I wonder if they took the Holton Street Bridge back to Riverwest.
The naked-biking incident, in and of itself entirely an underwhelming statement, did little but reenforce my knowledge that certain Riverwest residents are becoming more than a little annoying, they hardly ever touch reality.
That same Thursday night Bastille Days, a sportful appropriation of French culture, for the 30th year straight brought droves of Milwaukee’s most spirited summer revelers together to observe Bastille Day. I don’t know about you but Bastille Days seems to me like a great excuse to run 3 miles then slam a couple of beers or just slam a few beers and mow great food.
Not much, but a little Perspective
Growing up in Milwaukee, Riverwest wasn’t a transitional neighborhood and trendy place to live, it was another hood. One in which I used to buy 40 ounce beers when I was underage in the mid-90’s, for my suburban friends and I. It was an “old” hood that white people lived in too, just like most of the Northside.
I say that in the sense that some Wisconsinites may not think that there are regular ‘ol white people, elderly ones too, that live around blacks. It’s not shocking. It’s not history. It’s not a bold social statement, an attempt to realize integration, as one of the accosted on July 3rd was quoted as saying in Eugene Kane’s recent article in the Journal-Sentinal (more on that soon). It’s just a fact of life and no one who is psychologically well adjusted questions it.
Not only that, who is asking that you integrate into street culture? How can you assume that all blacks ascribe to street culture? Do you let blacks who ascribe to your cultural norms integrate into your social circles? The answers are nobody, you can’t, and you probably don’t.
The A.V. Club couldn’t resist chiding Kane for his after-the-fact remarks about the incident involving a group of teenagers and young adults deciding to go on a rampage (Let’s not talk about the Madison Halloween Riots in comparison) and then beat up a bunch of people.
The ultimate fun crusher, Chief Flynn of the MPD, actually had the most notable comments of the whole ordeal, reminding the public that 8 white people weren’t the only victims that night, 1 Asian, 4 Latinos and 13 blacks were also victimized. Then one must realize that blacks also have to deal with street crime.
Thumb in the Eye
Thursday night the band of naked Riverwest bike-riders needlessly tried to poo-poo a great time being had by others. It would be easy to blame Riverwest, as an entity of entitled socially degenerate scrubs. Doesn’t Riverwest bear the glut of Milwaukee transplants, increasingly representing our State’s small towns, and bringing with them their small town attitudes and anxieties into an already tense area? It may be easy to craft preconceived notions into fact-based statements, but I don’t think thats entirely fair when groups of people are involved.
I don’t hear it often noted that the diversity Riverwest stems from the many different “scenes” it harbors, more so than the racial make-up. Families, holistic health enthusiasts, social and political activists, yuppies and regular old town folk of all backgrounds make events like the Riverwest Follies, and the Community Gardens happen. Street hustlers, punks, apathetic hipsters, and other socially draining sub-groups stake their little piece of Riverwest as well.
Over the 4th of July holiday, some black teens that aspire to immersion in the street hustler scene, met head on with the other scenes in Milwaukee, including other black residents who just want to work and enjoy holidays like anyone else, including the plentiful number of black teens you see, from Metro Mart to Mayfair Mall, working part-time jobs so they can have some spending money.
Without question, the lost black youth scene (that eventually turns to the street hustling scene) did considerable damage to the delicate social fabric of Milwaukee and Riverwest. I wouldn’t be surprised though if a lot of street hustlers and thugs, who this incident might be attributed to, were even thinking “Y’all some stupid muthafuckas!”
Sadly, some white individuals have taken the opportunity to make wholesale judgements against every black person in Milwaukee. However, racial animosity towards blacks by-far predates this “mob” incident, despite the desire to use what happened to justify “new” feelings of animosity.
Sadly, some black individuals have tried to crawl out of their skin and make apologies. Sadly, with futility, the Police now post on corners in Riverwest waiting for the next vicious mob to materialize. Sadly, disregarding those who were beaten up on the 4th, their hipster counter-culture neighbors in Riverwest didn’t participate in Peace Action Coalition’s Peace Rally but took the time late on Bastille Days’ opening night to give Milwaukee the finger.
Looks can be Deceiving
A couple of parting references, a common ethic in West African culture deals very seriously with thieves and robbers. Let’s not forget that some of parents of the young adults that committed the 4th of July lootings turned their children in to the police and urged other to do the same. Lastly, a friend of mine traveling in Togo and Ghana recently shared this story about seeing a communities’ response to property crime. Please read, and remember Milwaukee is still a great place with great people and great events.