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STEUBENVILLE — The annual African American Heritage Festival Family Reunion Community Fun Day takes place Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Steubenville’s North End Ballfield on North Seventh Street.

Organizers say they have put together a fun day of activities for all ages, including a bouncy castle and face painting for children, singing groups, a dance group and a poem reading.

“That’s the main thing, just a celebration of our culture as a whole, the niche that we’ve carved for ourselves as African Americans in America.” said Elder Michael Jett.

“We want to showcase it as best we can, just as an expression of who we are and what we are. It’s an opportunity for businesses large and small in our community to showcase their stuff and show who they are. It is an opportunity for us to communicate with each other and celebrate who we are and where we are today.”

There will also be a 50/50 drawing, a commemorative release and everyone’s favorite basketball game.

“We have a tradition, the old school vs. new school basketball game, and that will continue. I do play-by-play, I enjoy it a lot. Trash talking is definitely part of it!” Jett said, adding it was all in the spirit of fun.

The day will feature many store displays and food vendors.

“I think we have 10 food vendors, a number of them, they’re from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Columbus, and there will be local food vendors as well.” he said. “And local businesses, I think we have 20 or 25 local business vendors that come on top of the food vendors.”

This year, to allow everyone to disperse, the city is closing North Seventh Street from Franklin Avenue to just before the Coen gas station. The gas station will be open so people can continue to fuel up or shop for sundries, but no traffic will move past the roadblocks, allowing food trucks to be placed on the street and festival-goers to move safely through.

“I don’t think we’ve closed off Seventh Street for anything since I was a little kid and they ran the Deacon’s bike race.” said Jett. “The Deacons had a motorcycle club and ran motorcycle races. I don’t remember the road being closed after that so it’s huge for us. I think it creates a real festival atmosphere.”

He said volunteers will be on hand to direct out-of-towners to parking if they need assistance.

“We started the festival, I want to say that 1996 was maybe the first year”, he said. “No matter what year the Million Man March actually took place, it was that (following) summer – we did a festival to celebrate the Million Man March itself and we’ve been doing it ever since, apart from maybe a four-year hiatus, we did.” didn’t do it, but we picked it up again last year.

“I’m very happy with how it went last year, with the response we got. People came in great numbers, everyone had a great time, there were no problems. The basketball game was exciting – it was just a good time.”

He expects this year to be more of the same, only – bigger.

“We want this thing to reach its full potential,” adds Jett. “We know the more investors we have, the bigger it is, the more attractive it is to wealthy people. We’d love to see it grow bigger, where we can bring in national entertainment and turn it into the festival Steubenville deserves. For now, think of this as his childhood.”

Committee member CJ Mitchell agreed, saying that this year they’ve seen an increase in local businesses jumping on the bandwagon. “Many more sponsors and donors. We’re cordoning off part of North Seventh Street in front of the ball field, that’s where the food vendors will be. We are super excited.”

Mitchell said he still wants to expand it into a multi-day event.

“I don’t want to commit to a timeframe, but with the support we’ve had this year, it will become a reality sooner rather than later.” he said. “It means it’s growing, more people know (what we’re doing), they want to get involved and support it, which was the original goal when we wanted to relaunch it.”

Mitchell said even the festival site, the North End Ballpark, matters.

“It’s important for us to show that North End Ballpark is still relevant and can be used for events,” he said. “We want to keep using it so it doesn’t fall by the wayside.”



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