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Bringing People Together

by Kali Ferguson

October 8,2009

In the wake of the 2008 Presidential elections, which unified unlikely allies in the quest for change, I am highlighting local events that welcome people to learn about others through conversation, observation, or just plain partying or eating. Many of us want to expose others to new cultural plateaus. Unfortunately, we sometimes create heady, inaccessible functions that can exclude many. If we want people to join us with joy, we must put fun and community into our efforts.

I asked a friend for his opinion on what brings people from varying backgrounds together. His response was, “Anything with beer or karaoke.” True. However, we are all capable of deliberately highlighting the unique and ubiquitous qualities of the cultures involved. We are truly bonding when we embrace and engage our differences (and similarities).

Diversity is about more than race, gender, or class. It exists in our religion, sexuality, hobbies, tastes in music, food and art. Age can also play a factor. Academics, artists and activists can have different mores, but they all have validity. Opera enthusiasts and Hip Hop heads value different qualities but have common ground in their search for catharsis or technique.

Some of us are blessed. We feel the connections in everything.

We don’t have to wait for annual festivals or MLK celebrations. In this time of financial challenges, all we need is a home or backyard. My mother and I noticed a trend of house concerts being held in the folk music community and jumped on the idea. We tailored it to our need to bring together all the communities we love, and the African Diaspora Culture Sampler was born.

American consumerism is moving towards the home – home theaters, home businesses, home improvement, and online shopping are booming industries. Why not include live entertainment? The atmosphere is safe, cozy, humble, and you can bring the kids!

At the Culture Sampler, we cross-pollinated aficionados of visual art, Hip Hop, Latin American culture, food, and storytelling. We welcomed all ages: families, twenty-somethings, empty-nesters, toddlers, and teenagers. We hosted a variety of people with different professions, ranging from professors and lawyers to part-time workers, home-makers, the unemployed, self-employed, and artists.

The event was beyond successful. We packed the house, the dance floor, and especially the kitchen. Most folks tried a food they never would have elsewhere. My father made pound cake and gallo pinto, a dish we enjoyed in Costa Rica. My mother made her famous Mississippi cornbread, and my friend Fametta brought potato greens from Zoewee’s Liberian Restaurant. Friends Ami and Rian educated skeptics on the wonders of raw cuisine. Everyone devoured their dairy-free, un-cooked pizza, stuffed mushrooms, and Key Lime pie. And we can’t forget the Red Kool-aid, pure apple juice and grape soda.

Early birds saw a performance of folk story, original music, poetry, and pop music by Sade (who doesn’t like Sade?). The children had a space for themselves to play. They also danced with the grown-ups to reggae, salsa, meringue, and hip hop. Guests Antoine, Jen, and Fametta answered inquiries about their multi-layered art.

Although the gathering was a hit, we want to improve upon it. I commit to including more people from Charlotte’s immigrant communities (including newcomers from Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean). It’s not enough to invite only the people we already know. We must learn how to reach out and listen to the interests of less visible communities and we especially want to promote artists from outside the U.S. who live in the region.

For cities I have lived in or visited like New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Asheville, and sometimes even Miami or Durham, this approach might be a given. But in Charlotte, we have a large space to fill when it comes to engaging people where they are and introducing ourselves to new experiences in an entertaining way. The good news is that many of us are willing to work towards that goal.

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