CU to host first black, African arts festival this weekend

By Jillian Little, Assistant Buzz Editor

Sisters-in-laws Susan Ogwal and Cindy Ogwal are very proud of their African ancestry and immigration from Uganda but often had trouble finding any festivals that celebrated the diversity of African people in the Champaign-Urbana community.

“I’ve lived here for over 20 years, and we’ve never had anything of this nature at all,” Susan said. “We moved to Champaign in the 90s and started middle school here.”

As a response, they decided to make one of their own.

“Susan and I spoke about coming up with a festival and got tired of going to Chicago festivals,” Cindy said. “Our planning really started in April.”

Talks of a festival had been in the works for years, but the pair started thinking about it critically only a year ago. After applying and winning the Urbana Arts Grant (a program that encourages the display of any creative expression to the rest of the community), months of planning and getting in contact with vendors and musicians, the first annual C-U Black and African Arts Festival was born.

“Our overall goal is to highlight the expression and creativity of African artists and expose them to the rest of the community,” Susan Ogwal said. “Whether you’re from Jamaica, England or anywhere else in the world, we want to celebrate you.”

This coming weekend, the C-U Black and African Arts Festival will offer activities that are fun and enriching for guests of all ages.

“We want this to be a safe space for everyone to feel like they belong,” Cindy Ogwal said. “We want people to go home at the end of the day and say, ‘Hey! I actually went somewhere where I felt at home.’”

While there are going to be many items people can buy like art pieces, traditional children’s clothing and skincare products, but the thing that stands out is the diversity of talent in the entertainers that will perform throughout the weekend.

“You’ll get everything from poetry to story-telling to live bands,” Susan said. “Whenever you come, something’s going to be going on.”

Most of the food vendors will give their own twist on traditional African and Black foods like jerk chicken tacos and Afro-Italian fusion cuisine. Local stores such as Art Coop and the Idea Store will sponsor some education activities, including a coloring booth where children can color and simultaneously learn about African countries as well as other countries around the world.

Creating and motivating others to participate in events like these are important to the sisters-in-law because many people are not knowledgeable about African history and culture, Susan said she encounters such people on a daily basis. Some even in her professional career as she has a PhD in Educational Policy from the University.

“There are lots of people who still think that Africa is a country. I just got that question last week,” Susan said. “We are not people who just came out of slavery. We’re also people who invented more than half the technology that’s here today.”

Exposing other people to different cultures is one thing but at the end of the CU Black and African Arts Festival, both Susan and Cindy had some other ideas of what they wanted people to retain about their experience.

For one, they hope to give people the opportunity to listen to rising artists.

“Lizzo came through here just a few years ago, and she wasn’t really well-known back then,” Susan Ogwal said. “The people you’re about to see and witness are going to be in the spotlight in the next year or two.”

Overall, the goal of the C-U Black and African Arts Festival will be to unite the citizens and celebrate what it means to be proud of one’s heritage.

“Us coming up with a festival like this will bridge the gap between people who come from different places,” Cindy said. “We want you to know that did something that was positive and healthy, and you also learned about different people in the process.”

The C-U Black and African Arts Festival will be on Sept. 27 from 2-10 p.m. and Sept. 28 from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. General admission is free.

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