Urbana celebrates 175 years with African culture

By Jill Disis

“Come Alive!” was the mantra for the celebration of the city of Urbana’s 175th birthday on Saturday.

The celebration was expanded to include African-American culture through song, dance, art and food.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing welcomed the audience and opened the festivities.

“Urbana was formed on hospitality all the way,” Prussing said.

Prussing said the event was a way for people to appreciate history while celebrating the city’s founding. She added that this was one of several different celebrations taking place throughout the year, and it may continue into next year.

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    Ward 5 Alderman and organizer Dennis Roberts was also present.

    “We wanted to end the year with a powerful sound and powerful celebrating,” Roberts said. “This event is to highlight and showcase the black culture of Urbana.”

    The entertainment included the youth jazz ensemble Mo Better Music, the contemporary blues band Deja Vu, the Mo Better Music Choir, and the instrumental band Nathaniel Banks and the Pick-Up Jazz Quartet. Each sang or played various pieces reflecting the African-American culture to a large audience of local citizens.

    Also present were several artists who showcased their work to all in attendance.

    Artist Scotland Brown displayed many of what he called his photo pastels.

    “It’s kind of an impressionist look, but I’m giving it something modern,” Brown said. “I’ve done artwork since I was a kid, and now I’m moving into various things.”

    Brown said he was pleased with the festivities.

    “It’s really wonderful,” Brown said.

    Jessie Knox showcased a variety of his oil paintings from his Afrikan Collection.

    “It’s to explore the continent of Africa, its various cultures and people,” Knox said.

    Knox said the celebration was healthy for the community.

    “It’s like a melting pot; good jazz, good food, good conversation, good artwork,” Knox said. “We need to do this much more often.”

    Artists and musicians were not the only talents present. Former Negro League baseball player Ernie Westfield was also present to talk about his work and read from his written poetry.

    “This history is very important,” Westfield said. “I want to tell the kids anything is possible, and don’t give up.”

    After a presentation of various music artists, the celebration concluded with food and further exhibitions from the gathered artists.

    Many signs point to a repeat of this type of gathering being celebrated in following years.

    “I can see this happening as an annual event,” Roberts said. “I’m really pleased with how it turned out.”