Rooted in Community

Roots Cultural Festival

Most people know Delray Beach for its newly renovated downtown, a district along East Atlantic Avenue with a sprinkling of novelty stores and restaurants where people enjoy their meals outside, pleasantly chatting while palm trees sway in the ocean breeze and luxury cars gleam curbside.

But this summer the most meaningful action takes place in west Delray. Now in its 23rd year, the Roots Cultural Festival dips its metaphoric hands into an ever-deepening community chest to pull out its most impressive and well balanced agenda to date. Festival planners decided two years ago to organize the festival around one of the major tenets of Kwanzaa each year, and the theme this year is kujichagulia, or self-determination. Happenings like a Kwanzaa seminar and a "Twilight Safari Dinner," in conjunction with academic and athletic competitions and seminars on topics like serving the homeless and financial planning, are sure to make this the most successful Roots ever.

"This is definitely a family-oriented festival," says Andrea Bruton, festival board chair, Delray resident, and mother of two. "Not only are all of our events meant to better the community, they are all free as well."

In fact it would be difficult to put a price on some events. After all, how much could you charge people to sit in a room and talk openly with each other with the assurance of confidentiality? That's exactly what happened during the recent "Gathering of Brothers and Sisters," which Bruton cites as one of the most successful events and one which has already prompted requests for another exchange.

With 30 days of events spread out over four months, it can be hard to keep track of all the festival has to offer, but the finale this weekend is easier to grasp. After the Roots Festival Parade Friday (from city hall to Pompey Park), jazz artists E.J. and Company and Benny Latimore headline Jazz and Blues in the Park.

The park is also the site for a prayer breakfast on Saturday, which is followed by a health fair and the College Fair and Step Show. Fresh from Nickelodeon's All That Music and More Festival with LFO and B*Witched, teen-pop phenom SAMMIE headlines Saturday's Festival in the Park. Entertainment Saturday also includes R&B recording artist J. Shin and master kora player Keba Bobo Cissoko. More music is on tap for Sunday's Gospel in the Park performance featuring favorites the Woods Brothers and Perfect Praise.

As soon as it's all over, it's time for organizers to start planning the Roots children's classical music series for this winter -- and then the 24th Roots Cultural Festival for next year.

"It's been a lot of work," sighs Bruton, "but when you see the turnout, the people, it's all worth it. That's what it's all about."

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Marli Guzzetta