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Kuumba Fest Celebrates San Diego's Black Community

This undated photo shows Kuumba Fest's parade of living history.
Courtesy of Kuumba Fest
This undated photo shows Kuumba Fest's parade of living history.
Kuumba Fest Celebrates San Diego's Black Community
Kuumba Fest Celebrates San Diego's Black Community GUEST:Dajahn Blevins, founder Kuumba Fest

The African-American culture and arts event celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. It is a three-day festival which combines black history with place, panels, speakers, food, a marketplace and music. This is a homegrown event founded as an offshoot of a gang diversion program in the 90s and it is increased in prominent and popularity ever since. Joining the is the man that founded Kuumba fest , Dajahn Blevins. Thank you for joining us. There's a lot going on. Plays music and marketplace. How did it start out that when he got it all going. It started out as a behavior modification program. There were several students and educational institutions that had young people that were not responding to the traditional intervention programs. We got a follow-up for them through the San Diego urban league. The follow-up question of that program is where we work with the family and the school and we work with the student doing what we call prevention intervention and support throughout the year. It was kind of art centric as well. I'm wondering why you believe that are was a way out for at risk kids. One of the things that we noticed was many of the young people that were acting out were really lightweight actors. They were really class clowns but talented young people what we did is a -- told him if you can contain that energy and do what you are some is to do in school and get your citizenship out we will make the stars here. And it worked. It was a pilot program but it caught on the very first group of 23 people Pamela Smith was my partner and we have like a 99 success rate with those people other schools and organizations found out about it and the rest is history. When did the idea of a community festival a to you. We had already been doing the festivals in the community. We have been doing them for about five years through theater that we created through community actors theater. There was a lady by the name of Ms. Hamilton and allowed people to work out of her garage and you theater that impacted the community. We sort of started there and what's with found that we could integrate families and young people that were in crisis with professional artists and educators and teachers they will work with the community and the creative fun kind of way that they are learning the cognition skills and this is probably the biggest component of confessed It has become a San Diego. How do you think it reflects the unity of the African-American community. It is really a phenomenon. I'm a native San Diego and so I was here when we have our own bank and credit unions when he on the mom-and-pop stores so we have a chance to work with those businesses. There was no such thing it is not even a term. We call them either skyline or Oak Park or Amber Hill -- Emerald Hills. They're coming together to bring that back and making people aware. Told some of the programs that Kuumba fest. We have jazz with Curtis Brooks and the African marketplace and the parade of history were great African kings and queens and PA and Shaka Zulu and others -- people we don't get to hear about -- there is African drum African dance Is the one and only iconic legendary Sanchez who will be introduced by our very own district representative Doctor Shirley Weber. That is just Friday night and then we and with the tribute to the Apollo theater on Saturday night with something called late night live. That is something called a tribute to the Apollo theater. The audience gets to bail you off the stage if they don't like you. That is a sellout show every year. And the and on Sunday with a fashion show and the cost concert. And clapping for stomping -- It sounds as if young people are very much involved in Kuumba fest. The developing their the ushers in the hospitality. They create the ambience that so celebrate us. Not only that the children are actually telling the adults with the things that are going on in the country right now and they are looking at the TV and there is a little bit of your and trepidation so they are asking the young people start loving us now start teaching is now start leading us now so that we can survive and continue to go forward no matter what is going on. I have speaking with Kuumba fest founder trend -- Dajahn Blevins. It continues through Sunday at the San Diego Representative theater in Horton Plaza. Dajahn thank you so much. Thank you.

On the outside, Kuumba Fest looks like an arts event that celebrates African American culture. The three-day event has everything from original plays and dance performances to live music and a panel about the state of black cultural arts.

But founder Dajahn Blevins explains there's much more going on than entertainment.

"It's edu-tainment," he said.

When he first came up with Kuumba Fest, Blevins' goal was to help at-risk teens in southeastern San Diego. He created "Education Now and Babies Later," an arts group that operated as part of San Diego Urban Warriors' gang diversion program.

Blevins wanted to use theater and the performing arts to inspire teens.

So, sprinkled in with the arts, are also events like the "Night of Positive Images," which includes a living-history parade, an African market and a celebration of faith.

"People who haven't been before think it's just an arts event," Blevins said. "But when they get there, they realize that they're also getting information about how to eat better, how to find a job, how to be part of a community."

Kuumba Fest celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with the theme "Black to Power." Blevins spoke to Midday Edition Tuesday about the event's history and how it's helped African American youth over the years.