STEUBENVILLE — The annual African-American Heritage Festival Family Reunion Community Fun Day is set for noon to 9 p.m. Saturday at Steubenville’s North End ballfield on North Seventh Street.
Organizers say they’ve put together a fun-filled day with activities for all ages, including a bounce house and face-painting for children, singing groups, a dance group and a poem that’s going to be read.
“That’s the main thing, just a celebration of our culture as a whole, the niche we’ve carved out in America as African-Americans,” Elder Michael Jett said.
“We want to put it on display as best we can, just as an expression of who we are and what we are. It’s an opportunity for businesses in our community, big and small, to strut their stuff and show who they are. It’s an opportunity for us to commune with each other and celebrate who we are and where we are today.”
There also will be a 50/50 drawing, a memorial release and the ever-popular basketball game.
“We have a tradition, the old school vs. new school basketball game, and that’s going to go on. I do the play-by-play, I have a lot of fun with that. There’s trash-talking, for sure!” Jett said, adding it’s all in the spirit of fun.
The day will include plenty of business displays and food vendors.
“I think we have 10 food vendors, a range of them, they’re coming in from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Columbus, and there will be local food vendors, also,” he said. “And local businesses, I think we have 20 or 25 local business vendors coming, in addition to the food vendors.”
So everyone can spread out, this year the city is blocking off North Seventh Street from Franklin Avenue to just before the Coen gas station. The gas station will be open, so people will still be able to get gas or run in for sundries, but no traffic will be moving past the road blocks so food trucks can set up in the street and festival-goers will be able to safely move about.
“I don’t think we’ve blocked off Seventh Street for anything since way back when I was a little kid and they had the Deacon’s bike race,” Jett said. “The Deacons had a bike club and they’d have motorcycle races. I can’t recall any time after that that the street was blocked off, so it’s huge for us. I think it creates a real festival vibe.”
He said volunteers will be around to direct out-of-towners to parking, should they need assistance.
“We started the festival, I want to say maybe 1996 may have been the first year,” he said. “Whatever year the Million Man March actually was, it was that (following) summer — we did a festival to celebrate the Million Man March itself and we’ve been doing it ever since, except for, maybe, a four-year gap where we didn’t do it but we picked it up again last year.
“I’m very pleased with how it turned out last year, the response we got. People turned out in big numbers, everybody had a great time, there were no issues. The basketball game was exciting — it was just a good time.”
He expects this year to be more of the same, only — bigger.
“We want to see this thing reach its full potential,” Jett added. “We know the more investors we have, the bigger it is, the more attractive it is to people who have assets. We would like to see it grow bigger to where we can bring in national entertainment and turn it into the festival Steubenville deserves. Right now, consider this its infancy.”
Fellow committee member C.J. Mitchell agreed, saying they’ve seen an increase in local businesses jumping on the bandwagon this year, “a lot more sponsors and donors. We’re blocking off a portion of North Seventh Street in front of the ballfield, that’s where the food vendors will be. We’re super-excited.”
Mitchell said he still wants to see it expand to a multi-day event.
“I don’t want to commit to a time frame, but with the support we got this year, it’s looking to become a reality sooner, rather than later,” he said. “It means it’s growing, more people are aware (of what we’re doing), they’re looking to be involved and they’re looking to support it, which was the initial goal when we were looking to relaunch it.”
Mitchell said even the festival site, North End ballpark, has significance.
“The importance of us using North End ballpark is to show it still can be relevant and be used for events,” he said. “We want to continue to use it, so it doesn’t go by the wayside.”