More than 3,000 people convened in downtown on Sunday in what organizers called an “unapologetic celebration of blackness.”
At first glance, Durham Central Park had the appearance of any other street fair, with food trucks, amplified music and children scampering about in the oppressive August heat.
But Black August in the Park was different: black vendors, black families, black music and black organizations were seeking to better the lives of black people.
“One of our values is all black everything,” said Derrick Beasley, one of the founders of the festival, now in its second year. “We are providing a space for black people in Durham to unapologetically celebrate themselves.”
And celebrate they did. The music at the festival ranged from “I Want You Back” by Michael Jackson to “King Kunta” by Kendrick Lamar, and food trucks dished up turkey barbeque, wings and Caribbean food. Organizers handed out buttons to outline the themes of the day. Build. Love. Resilience. Resist. Truth.
Black August is a month to commemorate the struggle of black people, with a stronger tone than February’s Black History Month. Its origins stem from the August 1971 killing of Black Panther George Jackson in California’s San Quentin prison. August also commemorates the 1619 arrival of slaves in Virginia, the 1791 revolution in Haiti, and the 1925 founding of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters by A. Philip Randolph and others.
On Sunday, rows of social organizations staffed tables under the pavilion that houses the Durham Farmer’s Market. Tanya Bass, aka the Southern Sexologist, gave straight talk on sexually transmitted diseases and the effects of domestic violence. She brought models of the brain to talk about the human need for intimacy, the role of sexual stereotypes and sexual identity.
We are providing a space for black people in Durham to unapologetically celebrate themselves.
Derrick Beasley, one of the founders of Black August in the Park
“People think that sex education is about our various organs,” Bass said. “But the brain runs everything.”
A few feet away, Marla Hawkins touted the benefits of Fertile Ground Food Cooperative, a community-owned grocery and gathering space developing in southeast Raleigh.
Ban the box
A stone’s throw away, staff from All of Us or None of Us NC explained how they try to help people expunge their criminal records to increase their odds of getting better jobs. They also campaign to “ban the box” – trying to persuade employers not to ask job applicants whether they’ve been convicted of a felony.
One of the festival volunteers, Jevon Jackson, was all for that. Jackson was convicted of robbery, served his prison sentence and finished his parole in October 2012.
Jackson said he holds two restaurant jobs. He’s frustrated to be limited to construction or cooking jobs and wished applications didn’t have the box.
“I wish they would have a conversation with me before they take a decision on me,” Jackson said.
Jackson pointed to a new apartment complex going up across the street from Durham Central Park.
“I’ll never get a lease there,” he said. “I have to rely on my girlfriend to get an apartment.”
Jackson said he’s determined to build the best life for himself. He votes in every election and has applied for a passport. He hopes to travel to Panama to practice his Spanish and salsa dance.
All of Us or None of Us is housed at the offices of Spirit House, an organization run by black women. Director Nia Wilson said her group tries to prevent conflict in the neighborhood or repair the damage of crime and conflict. The group also conducts a 15-week training program in its work, which members refer to as restorative justice.
Gann Herman, a white woman who took the training, stopped by to give Wilson a hug. Herman said the experience broadened her horizons and instilled a deep commitment to improving the criminal justice system.
“And I’m making friends I wouldn’t have made before,” she said, gesturing to the growing crowd. “I’m having much more fun.”