Community building is like weaving a quilt — a patchwork of foreign hues form the greater fabric. Without being fully sewn in, people all too easily tear apart, says African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) CEO Gene Gelgelu.
“When people feel they belong to a place, they invest,” said Gelgelu. AEDS is a nonprofit that helps African immigrants with financial literacy, business loans, homeownership education, business development training and technical assistance for businesses. The organization also specializes in the community-building block of cultural engagement.
Since 2014, AEDS has held a Little Africa Festival in the Midway area of St. Paul, roughly between Hamline and Prior avenues. Because of its concentration of African immigrant restaurants and businesses, Gelgelu and AEDS have dubbed it Little Africa.
The point of the festival is simple — they want African immigrant communities to invest in the Twin Cities, and for the metro to get to know them.
In its first year, the festival drew 200 people. By 2018, attendance eclipsed 5,000. AEDS wanted to capitalize on its success. “We need to do something bold, different and big,” said Gelgelu. He and his team were considering their options, and, while researching a possible parade, found there was no such African parade in the state.
After a year of finding sponsors and securing permits, the 2019 Little Africa Festival will kick off with a parade for the first time. Parade floats and groups will feature the many varied African immigrant communities and their cultural dress, dances and treats.
“We are going to African-dance in the streets of the Capitol city,” said Gelgelu.
There will also be floats and groups from non-African people. That goes for the food and merchandise vendors and entertainment at the festival, said Gelgelu, an intention aimed at weaving the African immigrant cultures with other immigrant cultures and traditions already established in the Twin Cities.
Featured musical acts will include Congolese musician Siama Matuzungidi, Ethiopian singer Genet Abate, and Nigerian singer Carolyne Naomi.
The Little Africa Parade is Saturday, Aug. 3 from 4:30 to 9 pm, running along Snelling Ave. and finishing at Hamline Park located at 1564 Lafond Ave. in St. Paul.
The Little Africa Fest is the next day, Sunday, Aug. 4 from noon to 9 pm at Hamline Park.
Solomon Gustavo was a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.