What could be more welcome in a dismal Kalamazoo February than the warmth of a family reunion, complete with all-you-can-eat comfort food and hours of music?
Timing may explain part of the community’s resounding response to AfroFest, from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at Niko’s Landing Banquet Center, 5852 King Highway.
More than 1,200 people have responded online to indicate that they are interested in the community-wide celebration of African culture, and the event is expected to draw 100 people or more from all over West Michigan, organizer Daniel J. May says.May’s event planning business, Public Skool
, is hosting the 18-and-older event, a first for Kalamazoo.
“What we are most excited about is the community aspect of the event,” May says.
May created Public Skool last year to partner with local venues and create events that appeal to and are accepting of a broad range of people.
AfroFest is described on its Facebook event page as just such an event, a “safe place,” and a “NO JUDGEMENT ZONE!!”
“The response has been greater than we expected,” May says. “We were unsure how responsive the community would be to such a Black cultural event. We were shocked to find out how positive the response from the community” has been, and how empowered people feel by the idea of a place to embrace the beauty of Black culture, he adds.
“We are excited to recreate the family reunion vibe, a huge event amongst African American families," May says.
A highlight of the event, May predicts, will be the fashion choices of attendees. “We are excited to see how people dress for the event,” May says. Promotional materials for AfroFest encourage participants to dress in “Black attire,” perhaps in the style of their favorite Hip Hop artists or soul train dancers.
All people, of different colors and cultures, are encouraged to join, he says, and retro hip hop attire, '70s disco wear, and African prints would all be appropriate choices. So are Afros, if you have them.
The only thing that would not be appropriate would be wearing costumes,” Mays says. “If anyone has any concerns they can reach out to us at email@example.com
Takisha Johnson, 38, of Kalamazoo says she’s looking forward to the event as a way to celebrate February’s Black History Month with her daughters.
“I am extremely excited about Afrofest as it is a celebration of the African American culture and all of its beauty,” Johnson says. "There's no other event of its kind at this time during this month so it is the perfect Black History month celebration.
“My young queens are excited to participate in this event as they love everything about themselves,” Johnson says, “and (they) look forward to being surrounded by people who love their culture and can reinforce the self-love they have as well.
“I'm excited to see more events and parties as there are few options for those of us who have reasonable party standards,” Johnson says.
Food is another highlight
Catering, music, and photographers for the event are all locally based.
The all-you-can-eat buffet, prepared by Public Skool staff and Taste of Honey catering, will offer Southern baked chicken, BBQ pork, candied yams, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and peach cobbler.
DJ Conscious will play Hip-Hop, R&B, and Reggae music the entire night. DJ Conscious is a member of the Public Skool team and has been the DJ at the biweekly Sunday afternoon party series Sunday Skool organized by Public Skool.
“Dinner will be done at 8 p.m.,” May says, “and we will open up the dance floor to dance the rest of the night. We expect people to attend the entire event as the ticket includes both the music and entertainment along with the buffet.”
Participants will be given wristbands so they will be able to leave the event and return if they wish. The ticket price includes free parking; alcohol will be available at a full-service cash bar.
Tickets are on sale now for $30 and tickets will be available at the door for $35.
Kalamazoo’s AfroFest is not affiliated with other events of that name in Toronto or Washington, D.C.
May chose Kalamazoo for AfroFest due to its growth in culture and proximity to surrounding cities, he says. “Also, Kalamazoo has a community focused on diversity and as Public Skool grows to produce more events it made sense to do it this year with the success of our other events.”
May says he hopes AfroFest will be an annual event, becoming larger every year to become a staple event in this community.