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Students celebrate African-American culture, heritage with weeklong fest

Tyler Robinson / Lantern photographer

In the face of hate crimes that have drawn international attention involving defaced property on and near campus, one community on campus is coming together to celebrate its heritage.

This week marks the 34th Annual African American Heritage Festival. The week of events began April 21 and will continue to April 28.

While these hate crimes will have a strong presence in the festivities, organizers said there is also a push to highlight positive community reaction.

LaChe Roach, communications chair for the festival, said organizers have made extra efforts in planning the event. But Roach said though the hate crimes will be acknowledged throughout the festival, they will not be the main focus.

“I think it will be present throughout the week but we’re making efforts to show, let’s not dwell on the past,” Roach said.

Rayvion Sanford, a third-year in chemical and biomedical engineering and community service chair for the event, said he is participating in heritage week to celebrate culture and heritage on campus.

The festival began with a kickoff event on the South Oval. The event included large inflatables and free food. Roach said it was good to start the week off with a light-hearted celebration.

“(The kickoff) kind of sets the tone with all the fun and things we do. It’s like a carnival-type thing,” Roach said.

On Sunday, the festival hosted a gospel fest with nationally known psalmist, Tonya Baker. There were also local performers including Trace Carter, Fly Boy, Leap of Faith, Dan’s Ministries and Ohio State’s African American Voices Gospel Choir.

Monday’s event was a town hall forum hosted by Shannon Lanier, covering the topic “The (Mis)Education of the Millennial.” The forum, which attracted 50 to 60 people, brought on debate about the African-American community and present conditions at OSU.

A poetry slam Tuesday night opened the floor for artists and audience members to share their thoughts through entertainment. One performer sang while others in her performance expressed views on the defacing of Hale Hall, saying things like “Our walls don’t bleed hate.”

The string of hate crimes began April 5 when “Long Live Zimmerman” was spray-painted on the west wall of Hall Hale, home to Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center. Police said the vandalism referred to George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch leader who killed 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, telling police it was an act of self-defense. Two acts of vandalism were then discovered April 16, including the writing of the word “n—-r” and a swastika on a door in Baker Hall East, and the appearance of “Hang n—–s” spray-painted on a dumpster behind Formaggio Pizza at 20 E. 13th Ave., according to OSU Police.

Often one of the most popular events, the student-based talent show takes place mid-week, Roach said.

“That event generally draws a crowd of about 500 people,” Roach said. “There will be at least six performances.”

Future events include a wellness summit at the RPAC Thursday night and an OSU Reads event Friday.

“We bring in elementary school fifth graders,” Roach said. “We come in, we read to them and they get to play with Brutus and the cheerleaders and eat and all that fun stuff.”

Later, students can attend a semi-formal dinner titled Mahogany Moments.

Technically, the end of the African-American Heritage Festival is Saturday morning after “Envision yourself a Buckeye,” a community service event. However, the organization pairs with the National Pan-Hellenic Council for its annual step show, which takes place at 5 p.m. Saturday.

“Even though it is a separate event, we feed off each other,” Roach said. “People say, ‘Oh, stepping,’ but it’s actually a deeper tradition than that.”

The African American Heritage Festival is a week for community, Roach said. It is not just for African-Americans.

“Let’s all support one another as we would all individually want to be supported,'” Roach said.

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