History of Blacks Is Celebrated in Oxnard : Festival: College event features African American food, music, storytelling, jewelry, books and clothing.


Spirits were high at Oxnard College on Saturday, when about 50 people turned out to celebrate Black History Month.

The festival featured music and storytelling, along with booths offering everything from barbecue and African cuisine to collections of African-American clothes, jewelry and books for sale by black-owned businesses.

“That’s a great book,” said Art Mukunda as a young man picked up “Message to the Black Man” by Elijah Muhammad.


Mukunda owns Yaweh Books of Oxnard. He had set out some of his wares for the event, selling everything from African wood carvings and kofi skullcaps to flashy “Afro-centric” T-shirts.

He said events like Saturday’s are a chance for the small African American community in Ventura County to come together and learn more about their culture and history.

“Black people in this country don’t understand their culture,” he said. “They have to wait until they get to the university level to learn about their history. We need to gain understanding of ourselves and have others understand us as well. That’s the way to avoid stereotyping and fear.”

Saturday’s event, the first of its kind at Oxnard College, was put on by the college’s African American Student Union. Trecie Warren, president of the group, said the turnout was a disappointment, but that overall she was pleased with the event.

“This is just about the community coming out and celebrating black history,” she said.

In a brightly colored Senegalese dress, P.J. Zywiciel, a flight attendant who runs an African Imports store in Ventura, laid out such traditional African foods as spiced rice and a Kenyan lamb and turkey stew for all to sample.

Zywiciel also had a table filled with goods that she sells at her store, Precious Appeal, and a rack filled with African-made dashikis and dresses.


“This is a Senegalese fly-dress,” she said, pointing out the flared design of her own dress. “It’s meant to accentuate the movement of the hips. Senegalese woman are proud of the way they move, even when they’re carrying something on their head.”

As Zywiciel laid out her food, the Oxnard Community Choraliers belted out “Let’s Go to Jordan” and other traditional gospel songs for the crowd. Choir director Sherry El-Hidmi said her group takes every opportunity it can to sing.

“This is an outreach,” she said. “It’s a good feeling knowing that people are uplifted by the music. We’re singing to ourselves as well, and it feels good.”

Opiyo Odhiambo, a 26-year-old exchange student from Kenya studying computer science, sat back and listened to the music and took in the day’s events. With a smile and accented English, Odhiambo said even after a year in America, he felt a clash between his traditional African upbringing and African American tales of prejudice.

“I don’t see racism in Kenya. I can’t relate to that,” he said.

Odhiambo said he likes the United States but is still getting used to such things as raucous celebrations in black churches here and the independence of American women.

There were a few things he was getting used to, though. When it came time to eat, Odhiambo went for the potato salad, beans and ribs slathered with barbecue sauce, instead of the traditional African fare.


“It’s very good,” he said.