Saturday, July 07, 2001

Competition, race issues threaten fests

But Ujima, jazz organizers confident

By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In less than two weeks, Cincinnati and Indianapolis will compete head to head for black tourists' dollars as the cities kick off two of the country's biggest African-American cultural events.

        The Indiana Black Expo's Summer Celebration, to be held from July 16-22 at the Indiana Convention Center and RCA Dome in Indianapolis, is widely regarded as the granddaddy of black cultural events and attracts more than a half-million visitors each year.

        Cincinnati's Ujima Cinci-Bration and Coors Light Jazz festivals — to be held this year July 20-22, coinciding with the last weekend of the Black Expo — annually attract more than 150,000 visitors to the Queen City.

        But fallout from the riots that followed the police shooting of an unarmed black man in April, and lingering resentment among blacks over what many perceived as racially motivated restaurant closings during the 2000 Ujima festival, threaten to spoil the fun and hurt attendance at the Cincinnati festivals.

        Some longtime festival-goers say they won't go to the Cincinnati festivals or will attend the Black Expo instead because they feel unwelcome in their hometown.

        “I used to go (to Ujima and Coors Light) every year, but I'm not going this year because our so-called city leaders still aren't listening to black Cincinnatians,” Vivian Kavanaugh of Kennedy Heights said. “I'm going to the Black Expo. It's a bigger event anyway, and you don't have to deal with all the stuff you do here. Anytime there's a black event in Cincinnati, you see almost as many police on the streets as people coming down for the festival. You don't see that at white events like Taste of Cincinnati and Oktoberfest.”

        Jomar Hinesmon of Price Hill said that when he attended last year's Ujima and Coors Lights festivals, “It looked like Selma, Ala., in 1967; cops on horseback

        herding the crowd around. I'm surprised they didn't bring out the dogs.

        “This is happening in the year 2000 in a city that is 43 percent black,” Mr. Hinesmon said. “The city still shows no respect to those constituents.”

        Despite the disillusionment of some festival-goers, organizers of the Ujima and Coors Light festivals remain optimistic about the events, which they hope will serve as catalysts for greater harmony within communities throughout Cincinnati.

        They point out that while the Black Expo may be a larger, more prestigious event, it's also much more expensive to attend and to set up shop at, which should make Ujima and Coors Light more appealing, at least economically.

        “We've been hearing that people will be coming to Ujima,” said De Asa Nichols, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce. “Unlike the Black Expo, Ujima is free.”

        Ms. Nichols said early response from vendors and would-be volunteers also indicates that Ujima and Coors Light will be well-attended.

        “Our vendor booths are almost sold out, and we've been receiving a high number of calls from people who want to volunteer,” she said. “I would say participation is going to be better than it has been.”


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