by Kelly Rogge
Music, dancing and ethnic foods will fill the Kansas City Kansas Community College Field House as part of the 9th annual Wyandotte County Ethnic Festival: A Human Family Reunion.
“This is a great way for people in our community to experience how diverse food, music, art and dance generates a healthy, optimistic sense of shared well-being,” said Curtis V. Smith, a biology professor at KCKCC and one of the festival’s organizers. “This serves an academic purpose, but it also serves as a way to bring the community together.”
The Wyandotte County Ethnic Festival is from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 12 in the KCKCC Field House, 7250 State Ave. Admission and parking are free. Ethnic food will also be available for purchase.
The festival was introduced as a way to celebrate Wyandotte County’s greatest asset – its diversity.
Karen Hernandez, co-founder of the festival and a former member of the KCKCC Board of Trustees, said that it is grounded in Martin Luther King’s vision of what being part of a “Beloved Community” meant, equal opportunity and justice built on a solid foundation of agape or brotherly love.
“The Human Family Reunion is designed to foster a climate of inclusiveness, promote better human relations and educate each other about our cultural differences,” she said. “People want to come out to try the food from different countries, but it is also an opportunity to celebrate our common humanity.”
More than 50 organizations, countries and ethnicities from Wyandotte County will be represented at the festival through booths as well as onstage entertainment.
Clarence Small will once again serve as master of ceremonies, and Shawn Derritt, director of advising at KCKCC and gospel singer, will kick-off the event with the national anthem and “America the Beautiful.”
Another annual tradition is the awarding of the Legends of Diversity Award. It will be presented at 12:15 p.m. to the two co-founders of the festival, Hernandez and Melanie Scott, professor in the social and behavioral sciences department and former director of the Intercultural Center at KCKCC.
Among the criteria to be selected for the award are participation in organizing, planning or representing a country or ethnic group at the ethnic festival or culturally-related event in the Kansas City area; has made an effort to work together with a variety of people on issues benefiting the community; engineering the idea of peace and the spirit of cooperation in the community and world and reflecting with actions the ideal of building community.
Past honorees of the Legends of Diversity Award include Loren Taylor, Pat Adams, Ed Grisnik, Chester Owens, Helen Walsh Folsom and Carol Levers.
Everyone attending the festival will receive a souvenir program with blank “passport” pages. These can be stamped at the various booths. There will then be a door prize drawing at the end of the program from all of the completed stamped passport pages that have been turned in at the Martin Luther King Jr. exhibit.
In addition, Hernandez will be giving out one free book to each person who turns in a ticket received at the festival entrance, while supplies last.
Among the entertainment groups are The Gumbas, an Italian folk music group, who will perform at 12:30 p.m. and Danny Hinds, a Caribbean drumming and dance group. Danny Hinds will perform at 3 p.m.
In addition, the Hrvatski Obicaj Croatian Orchestra is returning as well as the Ed Grisnik Orchestra, featuring John Soptick.
Other performers include Roger Suggs, the St. Monica Inspirational Choir and the West of Marakesh Dancers.
The Creative Children’s Corner, coordinated by KCKCC’s Barbara Clark-Evans, will be located on the inside right of the Field House.
The food court area will include ethnic foods from West Africa and Kenya as well as “Soul Food,” prepared by the Renewed Hope Christian Church.
Students from KCKCC-TEC’s Culinary Arts Program will also be preparing Italian, Greek and Brazilian dishes. Water and mint tea will be available for free.
A spokesman said the Wyandotte County Ethnic Festival is thankful to its sponsors, the Unified Government Human Relations Commission; Brian Bode, vice-president of administrative services at KCKCC and the staff of Buildings and Grounds.
“Karen and I were just the visionaries,” Scott said. “He (Curtis Smith) was the one who took on the project and kept with it, transforming it into something fantastic. It gets the stakeholders to visit campus and becomes such a gathering for the community.”
For more information on the ethnic festival, visit www.freewebs.com/wycoethnicfestival/.
Kelly Rogge is the public information supervisor at Kansas City Kansas Community College.