Author: Alessandro Powell
A cool and gentle breeze swept between the Colored Musicians Club and WUFO headquarters Sunday afternoon as community members mingled, engaged with advocates, and enjoyed the reggae. DJ Ras Jomo, an orchestrator of Afro-centric life in Buffalo and the host of WUFO’s Access to Afreeka show (Sun., 6 – 9 p.m.), organized the third annual Culture in the Corridor event as part of Sankofa Festival.
“I believe that Buffalo is one of the cultural centers of the world,” Jomo said, “so I choose to bring international artists here and let buffalo shine on them.”
Commemorating the delayed emancipation of enslaved African Americans in isolated Civil War Era border states such as Texas and Oklahoma, Buffalo has hosted the largest Juneteenth celebration in the country for 42 years. The week of festivities called Sankofa builds up to Juneteenth. Sankofa takes its name from the symbolic bird of West Africa, often depicted looking backwards as she flies forward with an egg in her mouth. Sankofa symbolizes how ‘one must return to the past in order to move forward’.
Karen Stanley Fleming, a consultant specializing in capacity building for non profits, tabled for her Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor project at the event. The Heritage Corridor project advocates for the revitalization of historic sites along a vital stretch of the Underground Railroad.
“[The Heritage Corridor] is not just a historical site but a present site,” Jomo explained. “That’s what the whole Sankofa energy is.”
Cornell University student and High Road Fellow Tiffany Gibson helped the Heritage Corridor by engaging with area elders and youths as well as photographing residents for the project’s photobooth. The High Road Fellowship program partners Cornell and area university students with local nonprofits, businesses, and unions through Partnership for the Public Good. Fellows engage in grassroots and hands-on community service throughout the summer, learning what it takes to give back to one’s community through engaged citizenship.
While local musicians jammed between the CMC and WUFO, South African reggae star Nkulee Dube stunned her fans with her lyrical energy. She performed again at Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Sunday.
DJ Ras Jomo’s labor union, the New England Regional Carpenters Council (Local 276), was also in attendance at Culture in the Corridor for the second year in a row. Carpenters taught young people trade basics at their booth. Jomo’s local also tabled at Juneteenth on Saturday.
Area resident and union carpenter Leroy Phillip immigrated to the US from Jamaica and Granada in 1998. He hopes to inspire a new generation of black and minority men and women to enter the trades.
“For all of us [at the union] to be able to survive, we need to get younger black boys and girls into the union. We all want them in. And there is money to be made. A young person comes in at 18, they can retire by 55. Can you imagine that these days?”
“You put a hammer in their hand at this age, and they realize this may be something they can do,” said Carpenters Council representative Chris Ausden. “It gives them a chance.”
Chris is happy with the inclusive path his union has taken since 2011.
“We just wanna get more diverse period,” he said.
Ausden remembers how at last year’s Juneteenth one little girl got so into hammering that she spent the rest of the afternoon sharing her newfound skill with other kids.
“We are thrilled that Ras Jomo formed a partnership with Local 276,” said Karen Stanley Fleming. “Many students have real mechanical talent that’s never realized. More careers in the building trades would be ideal.”
Lead image: By Tiffany Gibson