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Seventh Avenue Heritage Festival - A new boom

 

Garthia Elena Burnett

 

Young Kabir Karriem had a front-row seat as the business and entertainment district along Seventh Avenue celebrated the community, with a humble street festival. 

 

At the center of the celebration was a flatbed truck, which doubled as a music stage. Children would gather around it and dance, soaking in a sense of togetherness and the smell of hot dogs grilling. 

 

Seventh Avenue''s Queen City Hotel gave musicians Bobby Blue Bland, B.B. King, Fats Domino, Duke Ellington and Little Richard a place to stay while making the rounds on the chitlin'' circuit. During the festival a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker will be unveiled in remembrance of the hotel, built in 1909. The last standing portion of the hotel was torn down in 2008. 

 

In the Jim Crow South, traveling musicians and notable athletes such as Lowndes County native Sam Hairston, were happy to have a place to stay. They didn''t know one day they would be called legendary. 

 

Karriem had the privilege of growing up in the midst of some of the rising celebrities, including Isaiah Moody. 

 

"I knew those folks, and there are some that I never met, but their legacy is on Seventh Avenue," said Karriem. "Seventh Avenue was a vibrant business district." 

 

Twenty-eight years from when the business owners on Seventh Avenue began to celebrate the area with a festival, Karriem continues the tradition, a tribute to the rich history he hopes the entire community will embrace.  

 

"What makes it distinct is it''s in a historic African-American business district," said James Tsismanakis, director of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Having a blues marker going up at this event will be a major tourism attraction for Lowndes County. This will be our third blues marker for Lowndes County." 

 

Each year, the Seventh Avenue Heritage Festival has drawn bigger crowds and bigger names. In 2009, the festival brought K-Ci and JoJo to The Friendly City. The Grammy-nominated and American Music Award-winning artists helped the festival to its biggest crowd in event history, more than 15,000 people. 

 

This year, Sept. 30-Oct. 2, featuring Dru Hill, Karriem plans for the festival to outdo itself. R&B singing group Dru Hill was most popular in the late-''90s, with hits "Never Make a Promise" and "How Deep is Your Love." Lead singer Sisqo garnered solo success with hit song "Thong Song." 

 

"People have been calling from all across the country to participate in the festival," he said, "from as far west as California, as far south as Florida -- Chicago, D.C." 

 

Karriem spoke from Washington Friday, where he was attending a Congressional Black Caucus leadership conference and also planned to meet with Dru Hill''s management. 

 

"When would you have thought we would get someone as big as Dru Hill in Columbus, Miss.?" Karriem asked. 

 

Since taking over the festival about eight years ago, Karriem has striven to turn the small block party into "the fastest-growing block party in Mississippi." 

 

With Dru Hill and the Sonic Boom of the South -- Jackson State''s marching band -- leading the show, with performances from Urban Mystic and Vick Allen, Karriem expects another record turnout. 

 

"Whenever (the Sonic Boom) comes to town or whenever they''re performing, people come from everywhere," Karriem said. 

 

While the festival costs more than $20,000 to coordinate, which comes from donations and support from the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, the festival also has an immeasurable economic impact on the area, Karriem noted, citing hotel stays and expenses at local restaurants and gas stations. 

 

The festival has drawn national attention to Columbus, being featured as a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society. 

 

Karriem, who serves as city councilman for Ward 5, is proud of the festival''s exponential growth from its humble beginnings. But he is more proud to share the passion he has for the area where he grew up.  

 

"I''m very passionate about the area. I know the rich history of Seventh Avenue. I know the shoulders of giants that we stand on," he said. 

 

"I want people to embrace the rich history that I share. ... The stories are endless, the legacies are priceless and I am just glad to be carrying on the legacy of Columbus."

 

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment walter commented at 9/22/2010 3:14:00 PM:

Karriem is deserving of much praise and support from all persons wishing the best for Columbus, The Golden Triangle and Mississippi, generally.

There are paintings and other artistic works in the private homes of residents in Columbus that are the products of Columbus natives. If owners of some of those works were requested to exhibit their art, in a safe, clearly visible location during the festival, whether the art is their own creation or the works of some other local resident, people would be truly amazed as to just how talented some people are who live in the area, now, or who have passed on. I know for a fact, Willie Fred White, who lived for years on Seventh Avenue, not far from B.B., produced a warehouse full of paintings that would astound most and please the most critical of all art critics!

Let young people, and older ones too, see what we're made of. Give them physical evidence that demonstrates that we (and they) are more than just thugs, hoodlums, addicted-persons or otherwise dysfunctional people. Help them to better see that they are, in fact, travelling along streets and by-ways in which some real giants have travelled. That it is within their DNA to do positive things and that it is within their power to change the stark reality that they now live and make it a reality that they will be proud of.

Five, ten, twenty years in prison is not living! Persons subjected to such are as dead as are the persons who stopped living on 9/11! If hundred of billions of dollars have already been spent to avenge the death of 3,000 persons, why not spend a few hundred millions to improve conditions and the lives of folks and help prevent them from dying behind bars. $20,000 is, relatively speaking, a lot of money. It ain't #*$t when you got as many folks in Columbus who have become filthy rich on the backs of natives of Columbus. Surely, there has to be some there who would donate and get tax-deductions from contributing to something as meaningful as The Seventh Avenue Festival.

 

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