Recapping the 15th Annual African American Cultural Celebration

Recapping the 15th Annual African American Cultural Celebration

I can’t believe it’s nearly the middle of February!  Where has the month gone?

Right before the month began, I kicked off Black History Month by attending the 15th Annual African American Cultural Celebration on January 30th.  This free event was held at the NC Museum of History in downtown Raleigh, and this years theme was Civil Rights—March On!.

Although I’ve been a Raleigh native for 19 years, this was my first year attending.  With over 75 musicians, storytellers, dancers, authors, artists, chefs, and more, it was sure to be an exciting day.

Upon first arriving to the museum, I met these three gentlemen who provided the Jonkonnu (pronounced John Canoe) experience, which is a celebratory fusion of music and dancing. Jonkonnu is an African American holiday celebration whose roots can be traced back to Jamaica and to the slave ships from West Africa. The celebration was brought back to life by the Tryon Palace staff to research the little-known history of Americans in New Bern. As you can see, the ‘ragman’ were wearing costumes made entirely of colorful rags that represent each family’s spirit.

While strolling through the museum, I stopped at the African American Quilt Circle table and met these two nice women. They explained the concept of the community quilt everyone could contribute to, which would be later displayed in the museum.

While actively participating in stitching the community quilt I couldn’t help but think of how thankful I was for this event, which served as a platform to bring our community together in a positive way.

I was very happy to have been doing it right.

One of the true highlights of my day was visiting the “Made Especially For You By Willie Kay” exhibit.  Willie Otey Kay was queen of Raleigh fashion for decades, who surpassed racial boundaries to create a successful business.  I learned so much about this stylist who had been designing and making dresses for brides, proms and debutantes from all over the State.  It was such a treat to see her handcrafted dresses up close.  Read more about her story here: NC Museum of History and The News & Observer

While visiting the Willie Kay exhibit I met Elizabeth Constant Lewis. It was a real treat! She’s Willie Kay’s grandniece who was taught to bead by her grandmother, Elizabeth Otey Constant, Willie Kay’s sister. She’s continuing the Otey tradition by providing professional beading, restoration of wedding and debutant gowns, and much more. We chatted for a long while about her craft and even discussed how much of an honor it would be for her to make my wedding dress some day.

Before I ended my day at the museum I was also fortunate to have met Obelia Exum, while making a donation to support the African American Cultural Celebration. Obelia is a talented Head Graphic Designer at the museum, and designer of the gorgeous festival logo I fell in love with. She laughed and said she would remember me because I didn’t want her to autograph my tote bag on the front. I’m sure she will remember me for that reason alone!

In summary, this event was extremely fun and educational for the entire family.  It was a perfect start to Black History Month and phenomenal way to celebrate African American heritage and culture.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!


The Ultimate Fashionista

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