Arts & Life, Photo Gallery

Aquarium of the Pacific’s African American Festival makes a splash with a sea of cultural celebrations

Percussionist Chazz Ross welcomes the anxious crowd of the aquarium with smiles and a warm eccentric voice.

“Welcome, everyone! Make sure to come and pick up a drum!”

Ross lays down two big duffle bags full of African drums on each side of the theater room for both children and adults to grab.

What starts as loud out-of-tune bangs from the audience soon turns into an in-sync chorus of beats being played from the direction of Ross as he leads an entire room of drummers.

Ross’ captivating “jungle” drum circle is just one of many live entertainment programs on offer during the Aquarium of the Pacific’s 22nd annual African American Festival.

[aesop_gallery id=”77943″ revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Culture, community and marine life wonders collide during the two-day festival event where Aquarium visitors immersed themselves in Black, African and African American cultural entertainment in honor of Black History Month.

Running from Feb. 24 to 25, the festival featured vendors and tables with Black artists and organizations, as well as 15-to-20-minute live presentations that ran in congruence with the Aquarium’s normal activities.

The session lineup for both days featured multicultural dancing and line dancing, as well as live jazz, hip-hop and soul performances, West African drumming, traditional African storytelling and an interactive “Gratitude Tools” experience.

The second day of the festival included the addition of a “Heritage Award Ceremony,” honoring achievements in Black history.

A group of performers known as the Fantasia Dance Ensemble kicked off early celebrations wearing Mardi Gras-inspired outfits while doing ballet, hip-hop and tap dance routines.

The Fantasia Dance Ensemble eventually got the crowd involved in their dance routines after playing with DJ Casper’s “Cha-Cha Slide” dance.

Two of the four Fantasia dancers, Alicia and Darina Littleton, are a mother-and-daughter duo who have performed around Los Angeles County for over 20 years.

Darina Littleton said events like the African American Festival help to inspire the community through Black and African culture.

“This is when a lot of the kids get to see and get exposed to the culture and talent and they get inspired. I know whenever we would go to shows when I was little too and see the older kids, I always wanted to aspire to do that one day,” Darina Littleton said.

“When you have the heart and love for it, you just continue on and then you are there to inspire the next generation.”

Toward the end of the festival, one of the final live segments was an interactive “Gratitude Tools” experience hosted by “Yogi” Melvin Boyce. The gratitude tools experience teaches kids about mindfulness, positive affirmations and meditative breathing exercises.

Boyce’s interactive exercise was meant to involve as many kids as possible; however, when Boyce invited 5-year-old Dash White to the stage, White’s presence and uplifting personality became the highlight of the entire segment.

“He remembered every word and followed every move I made. Dash is amazing,” Boyce said.

Dash’s mother, Tifhanie White, said after seeing an advertisement for the aquarium’s African American Festival on Facebook, she was excited to bring Dash and her newborn baby to the event.

“This event is amazing. I love seeing our African American culture being represented like this and Dash is always incredible. It was incredible to watch [Boyce and Dash] interact with people. He’s such a talkative kid,” White said.

The Aquarium of the Pacific will be hosting more cultural festival events every month leading into the summer, including an event honoring Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. on June 19, 1865.

Community and Events Manager Chelsey Coleman said cultural events, including the African American Festival, are meant to allow the Long Beach community to feel a sense of place and belonging at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

“Long Beach is an incredibly diverse place. We want to make sure that everybody who visits and lives here knows that this is their aquarium, this is their space,” Coleman said.

“We want them here. We want them to take up space and feel like they are a part of our community.”

The jazz ensemble, Music in the Moment performed in front of the Honda Blue Cavern for event attendees. A blend of classics could be heard from the aquarium's entrance from soothing harmonies to vibrant solos from the saxophonist and bassist.
Aaliyah Griffith (left), marine biologist and CEO and founder of Mahogany Mermaids, is seen explaining her book and mermaid bags to a curious attendee. Mahogany Mermaids is a nonprofit that aims to encourage exploration in aquatics sciences to children of color. Photo credit: Nuelle Obaseki
Betty Evans stands smiling next to her display of art in the Great Hall. Her favorite portrait she has painted features a Black female figure in a white dress strolling through a colorful city with a dark indigo background.
Betty Evans stands smiling next to her display of art in the Great Hall. Her favorite portrait she has painted features a Black female figure in a white dress strolling through a colorful city with a dark indigo background. Photo credit: Nuelle Obaseki
Paintings by Michael and his mother are seen with wide smiles, away from their vending booth, after watching the Mardi Gras line dancing event in front of the Honda Blue Cavern.
Paintings by Michael and his mother are seen with wide smiles, away from their vending booth, after watching the Mardi Gras line dancing event in front of the Honda Blue Cavern. Photo credit: Nuelle Obaseki
Artist Pia Ojiako presented her bead artwork depicting Black female figures and handmade jewelry amongst other African American vendors, nonprofits and businesses in the Great Hall.
Artist Pia Ojiako presented her bead artwork depicting Black female figures and handmade jewelry amongst other African American vendors, nonprofits and businesses in the Great Hall. Photo credit: Nuelle Obaseki
Dembrebrah Drum and Dance and Ensemble are joined by excited event attendees center stage after performing traditional West African dances accompanied with djembe drum rhythms.
Dembrebrah Drum and Dance and Ensemble are joined by excited event attendees center stage after performing traditional West African dances accompanied with djembe drum rhythms. Photo credit: Nuelle Obaseki
The jazz ensemble, Music in the Moment performed in front of the Honda Blue Cavern for event attendees. A blend of classics could be heard from the aquarium's entrance from soothing harmonies to vibrant solos from the saxophonist and bassist.
The jazz ensemble Music in the Moment performed in front of the Honda Blue Cavern for event attendees. A blend of classics could be heard from the aquarium’s entrance from soothing harmonies to vibrant solos from the saxophonist and bassist. Photo credit: Nuelle Obaseki
Aquarium of the Pacific offers over 12,000 ocean animals and over 500 marine species for viewing amongst their habitats and exhibits.
The Aquarium of the Pacific offers over 12,000 ocean animals and nearly 500 marine species for viewing amongst their habitats and exhibits. Photo credit: Nuelle Obaseki
Pia Ojiako explains her works to an event attendee and assists them in selecting a piece of handmade jewlery.
Pia Ojiako (left) explains her works to an event attendee and assists them in selecting a piece of handmade jewelry. Photo credit: Nuelle Obaseki

Author

Comments are closed.

Daily 49er newsletter

Instagram