Next month, Rochester’s Black Culture Festival will return to Parcel 5 for its fourth year.
“(The festival is) for anyone who wants to celebrate and support Black culture and all its accomplishments,” says co-founder and co-organizer Will Powers. “Our main goal is to bring awareness to those accomplishments and what has been created often under some of the worst circumstances in history.
“I love finding out new things about our past and our ancestry, but we often don’t look at how far we’ve come. We don’t celebrate our wins. This is a chance to do that,” he continues. “Also to support small businesses in ways we usually do not. We want to make sure they are able to keep going strong.”
Vendors at the two-day weekend event (Aug. 11-12), which are primarily made up of Black-owned businesses, will be selling food, baked goods, clothing, accessories, and more. Other booths will include exhibits with health and financial wellness resources.
The Black Culture Festival also will feature entertainment, including a family field day, musicians, comedians, a majorette competition and artist showcase. And Powers is excited about a special 50-year anniversary tribute to rap and hip-hop, which will honor the genre with musical performances in the style of rap’s early days all the way to modern trends.
“We’re really highlighting local talent too. There’ll be some heavy hitters on stage that weekend,” Powers says, mentioning Chris Goodknews Cardwell, comedian Rob Campbell, and others.
Just reaching the fourth year of the festival is a feat for Powers. The roots of the event trace to the early days of the COVID pandemic, when it was created as a way to lift spirits and support the local Black community. It was not intended to continue on into the future.
However, Powers says, he started getting calls about the next festival at the start of May the following year.
“At first it was vendors calling up asking me, ‘Hey, are you guys doing a Black Culture Fest this year?’ and originally I’d have to tell them ‘No.’ But then we kept getting more and more calls,” Powers recalls. “So, once it was to a point, it was like, ‘Okay, I guess we gotta go to work now!’”
The first Black Culture Festival was held at Genesee Valley Park and was subject to the social distancing, masking and sanitizer rules associated with COVID. Since 2021, the festival has been held at Parcel 5, which has helped expand the attendance and attractions.
Powers estimates more than 5,000 attendees come to Parcel 5 each year. He also notes its location in central downtown and convenience near bus lines as other factors driving the festival’s growth.
“The surrounding area, the stores, the apartments━they all tell me they love it. It’s just a positive vibe,” Powers adds.
With growth has come improvements to the structure of the Black Culture Festival. Sponsors and partnerships with both businesses and community organizations have helped immensely in supporting the event, Powers says. Metro Justice, Community Resource Collaborative, and the Healthcare Education Project are just a few organizations that have been helpful this year.
In addition, he is excited that its additional resources have brought the festival closer to the goal of awarding a local student a scholarship to attend a historically Black college or university. Powers hopes the scholarship award can be announced from the festival stage this year.
The co-organizer is also continually impressed by the reach of the event. As early as 2021, he notes, people have been coming from places like Albany, Buffalo, Geneva and Elmira. Last year, a bus from Toronto arrived for the festival, making it an international event, in his mind.
“At the end of the day, this is a festival for everyone; it’s not a secluded event, everyone is welcome,” Powers says. “Everyone should understand this culture and everyone should celebrate this culture because it’s all around us in the world today.”
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].