1,000 Enjoy Black History Celebration

More than 1,000 people stepped into a lively celebration of African American culture Sunday during the final day of the Afro-Centric Market Place in Simi Valley.

Scheduled to celebrate Black History Month, which ended Saturday, the fourth annual event filled the indoor promenade of Mountain Gate Plaza with the smell of incense and the rhythms of gospel music.

Hundreds of people gathered around a stage set up in the main courtyard to enjoy songs, dances, storytelling and inspirational readings throughout the afternoon.

"It's fabulous," said Phyllis Angel of Simi Valley as she clapped along with "Oh Happy Day," sung by Harmony, a mother-daughter a cappella chorus. "If you look at this audience, you see it is racially mixed. I think that says a lot about the people of Simi Valley and how they support the whole community."

Mary Julia Winn, one of the event organizers, said the Afro-Centric Committee of Ventura County started the Market Place in 1995 because there were few places locally to buy ethnic apparel, artwork or books for children. The event has grown every year since.

Thirty vendors offered soapstone carvings, painted masks, handmade jewelry, health-care products, brightly patterned head cloths, prints and dolls.

A shopper could spend as much as $300 on a flowing dress dyed with colors in the intricate batik method--used by people in Africa and the South Pacific--or as little as a dime on a stick of incense.

Educational materials included a series of coloring books titled "A Salute to Black Inventors," which teaches children about such innovators as John Stanard, who improved on wooden iceboxes to create an early version of the modern refrigerator, and R. B. Spikes, who invented the automatic gearshift.

Another booth displayed greeting cards, party invitations and calendars, all featuring images of black people.

Pointing to a stack of baby-shower invitations bearing a drawing of a sleeping African American infant, vendor Bruce Driscol said people of color want to see themselves reflected in such items. It's hard to find them anywhere, he said.

Winn estimated attendance at this year's two-day mini-festival at 3,000. Sunday's crowd grew in a spurt in the early afternoon when hundreds of people arrived after church services, she said.

"We are happy with the turnout. It is the celebration we wanted it to be," Winn said while taking a brief break with other organizers. She added, laughing, "You know, I celebrate Black History Month every day."

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