The Burke County branch of the NAACP invites the community to celebrate African-American history and culture at its annual Black History Festival, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29, at the Collett Street Recreation Center in Morganton.

The festival, which is free to attend, will feature a west-African percussion ensemble called Garvey Sisay from Charlotte, the Dancing on Air Crew breakdancers from South Carolina, Twist the Balloon Man and Annette Robinson, who will provide face-painting, according to a flyer advertising the event.

Ruth Roseboro, community outreach liaison for the Burke County NAACP, said the Dancing on Air Crew will give a motivational presentation, in addition to performing.

“It’s going to be uplifting and something to encourage our youth to reach their potential,” Roseboro said. “You can do whatever you set your mind to, but you’ve got to stay focused.”

Other local performers scheduled to entertain at the event include the gospel groups Rizen and Grace and Mercy, the Junior Appalachian Musicians and interpretive dancer Sandra Largent.

The theme of this year’s festival is “400 Years of Creativity and Resilience.”

“We wanted to recognize the contributions of our local African-American citizens, our state African-American citizens and our country,” Roseboro said. “We wanted to focus a little bit more on our local folks who, over the years, people maybe didn’t know about or had never heard of. We thought this was a good teachable moment.”

The group has created displays featuring information on local black citizens who had a significant impact on the community, including the first black police officers, the first black nurse at Grace Hospital and the first black teachers to teach in the newly integrated schools.

“We have been diligently working on putting together these visual histories — pictures of the actual folks, along with a summary of their accomplishments — to be located throughout the festival,” Roseboro said. “At any given time, when you’re walking through, you’re going to see these folks’ pictures, and we hope you’re going to stop and read and say, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know that.’ We’re going to periodically throughout the day give Black History facts and have a Black History quiz.”

Information also will be made available on the 2020 census and on voting. People will have the opportunity to register to vote if they have not already done so. Vendors will sell food and merchandise.

The festival is sponsored in part by a grant from the North Carolina Grassroots Arts Program administered by the North Carolina Arts Council and Burke Arts Council.

“We’re trying to have a well-rounded program that is for the entire community,” Roseboro said. “I know we say it’s a Black History Festival, but once again, I want to reiterate that the festival is for everybody in the community and surrounding areas. Just come out, fellowship, have fun, join in with us and learn some things you just didn’t know.”

She hopes people will see Black History Month as a way to focus on unity.

“Our country and our area has been built and founded on a diverse population,” Roseboro said. “No one group has done it all. We’re stronger together than we could ever be apart.”

Tammie Gercken can be reached at tgercken@morganton.com.

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