Performers from the 2019 African American Heritage Festival. Credit: Courtesy of Danielle Dyson

This weekend, the Student Life Multicultural Center will continue a celebration of culture going strong for over four decades.

The 42nd annual African American Heritage Festival at Ohio State will kick off Saturday and run through Feb. 29 at various locations across campus. The MCC program will feature events intended to contemplate and celebrate the African American experience, such as live performances, open discussion panels and a gala.

“The purpose of these events is to impact, educate and promote cultural awareness across campus and the community,” Ari Horton, a third-year in communication and overall co-chair of the African American Heritage Festival committee, said.

The committee — part of the Multicultural Center — has chosen “Surpassing the Standards” as a yearlong theme, according to the website, and the heritage festival is no exception. The events will center around the Swahili word “kupita,” which means “transcend.”

The public festivities begin Saturday with “Kick Off: Light Up In the Dark,” a celebration where guests can enjoy cultural vendors, activities, catered food and music, according to the website.

Throughout the week, the festival committee will also host a gospel and worship experience, interactive dialogue, variety show and poetry and spoken word showcase, according to the website.

The nine-day event brings Ohio State students and the Columbus, Ohio, community together to celebrate years of triumph in the face of adversity for the African American community, Kidest Beyene, a fourth-year in African American and African studies and overall co-chair of the festival committee, said.

Beyene added that the Gospel Fest is a staple of the festival and draws the most off-campus attention. This year, the Gospel Fest will be held Sunday in the Ohio Union’s Archie Griffin Ballroom and feature various artists and groups from Ohio State and across the city.

The week concludes with the “Mahogany Moments Gala,” a formal event with a red carpet entrance, live gospel music and a masquerade theme, according to the website.

The festival was founded in the 1970s as a one-day event called the “Block Party” to celebrate the end of the academic year, according to the website. Due to the majority of attendees being African American, it has evolved into a week of recognition and inspiration in the African American community in the past 40 years.

In addition to the festivities, Beyene said the event will serve as a forum for discussion.

“These discussions will be run by a team of panelists whose goals are to inspire the youth on a variety of topics that are ongoing issues in the community,” Beyene said.

Beyene cited “Word on the Street: Transcending Boundaries,” a panel focusing on colorism, or discrimination within a racial group based on specific skin tone; texturism, or the idea that certain natural hair textures are more beautiful or desirable; and Pan-Africanism, a movement advocating solidarity among all groups of African descent.

Despite the specific racial and religious themes of the festival, Horton said the event is inclusive and open to all.

“Everyone is welcome to come. This week is a great place to find yourself, whether that be through gospel, poetry or just kicking it with your friends. There’s a place for everyone,” Horton said.

More information about the specific times and locations of events can be found on the African American Heritage Festival website. Beginning Saturday, all events are free and open to the public.