A celebration of African American culture spreads across the grounds of the Pinewood Cultural Park in Largo on the last Saturday in February.
There is music, dance and spoken word poetry at the Florida Botanical Gardens and Heritage Village. African American-themed artwork by local school children is on display in the gallery space at Creative Pinellas. Inside the Creative Pinellas auditorium, playwright Jake-ann Jones and director Erica Sutherlin oversee a table reading of a play under development, “Aq&Ree: Brother Fire, Sister Fly,” in front of a live audience and solicit feedback from the crowd. Food trucks from local restaurants draw long lines of customers hungry for soul food and barbecue. A vendor’s village of African American-owned small businesses is set up on a lawn at the Florida Botanical Gardens.
Following a 10-year hiatus, the Pinellas African American Heritage Celebration is back for a second consecutive year, drawing a crowd that fills every available space in the Pinewood parking lot.
“Vernon Bryant, the former executive director of the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation, was very involved with the festival in the late 90s, early 2000s when it was really popular here in Pinellas,” says Shauné Ferguson, president of the Pinellas Alliance of Black School Educators, an organizer of the event. “It went away, mostly due to coordination with the museums and organizations involved. Vernon thought it was a good idea to bring it back. He was right.”
Ferguson says one highlight is the vendor village, which helps small Black-owned businesses selling clothing, jewelry, accessories, lotions, soaps and more get their goods in front of potential new customers they might not have reached otherwise.
Blingin with Britt Accessories is one of those businesses.
“I pride myself on selling $5 accessories for men, women and children,” says owner Brittney Daniels. “I’ve been in business a little over five years. This venue gives me the opportunity to showcase my inventory to the public. Being a small business, I’m home-based. I go through social media and small home parties to show my inventory. When I have an opportunity to come to events like this to showcase as a vendor, I can put out all of my pieces. It really showcases small businesses and Black vendors and gives them an opportunity for exposure as well as giving the community and opportunity to come out and support these businesses and discover all these things that are offered in our community.”
Green Book of Tampa Bay, a nonprofit directory of Black-owned businesses, artists and cultural sites, is another stop in the vendor village.
“We want to encourage people to be intentional with their spending when it comes to the Black community,” co-founder Joshua Bean says. “Economic equity, racial equity, that’s really what our focus is.”
At the festival, paintings by artists listed in Green Book of Tampa Bay are on display and sale.
“Last year, we couldn’t be here so we are really excited to be here this year,” co-founder Hillary Van Dyke says. “We have some of our merch out, but we decided to really feature this art because it is in line with what the festival is about.”
Speaking to the crowd while introducing a poet, Bryant says organizers want to grow the event next year, bringing in more artists, musicians, dancers, poets and small businesses.
For more information, go to Pinellas African American Heritage Celebration.