The Birmingham Times
Local resident Marie Dixon got exactly what she was looking for when she attended the inaugural Birmingham Freedom Fest last weekend in Kelly Ingram Park.
“As a vegan I was worried I wasn’t going to find anything to eat,” said Dixon. “I had a …black bean burger it’s so good…[and] amazing.”
Dixon moved to Birmingham from Maryland 17 months ago and said the festival gave her a chance to interact with the community.
“I don’t come out as much as I should, so this has been a great opportunity to mix and mingle…,” she said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to be a part of the civil rights [institute] and all of the history that Birmingham has.”
The Freedom Fest drew thousands of people for a day long series of entertainment and empowerment in the heart of the Civil Rights District in downtown.
The festivities began at noon beneath a bright sun that illuminated colorful tents and food trucks that sold goods to the diverse crowd around Kelly Ingram Park.
The festival offered a balance of entertainment and education. Performers included Birmingham talents Ruben Studdard and Alvin Garrett as well as Huntsville hip hop artist Translee. Others included gospel artist Kristen Glover, neo soul artist Love Moor, soul group Midnight Star, hip hop soul artist Musiq Soulchild, and hip-hop duo 8Ball & MJG.
There was also an online contest where the residents of Birmingham voted on “Birmingham’s Emerging Artist” – Chrinway, a Bessemer city rapper.
The fest also gave attendees a chance to hear leaders and innovators in business, technology, beauty, the arts, and urban planning during seven empowerment sessions held in places like the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Panel discussions included the “Justice, Empathy and Advocacy” panel with Mayor Randall Woodfin, U.S. Senator Doug Jones, and Prison reform advocate Anthony Ray Hinton.
Visitors came away pleased by what they saw and heard. To some the festival was reminiscent of the past and for others it was a look into the future of Birmingham.
“I think this is a great event and it being the first year, I just wanted to come out and show some support,” said Dixon, who added she was glad to see the diverse crowds. “It’s about all of Birmingham and not just the African-American portion of Birmingham.”
“I was really proud to be in Birmingham on Saturday,” she said. “I was touched by the history of the Civil Rights District and proud to see how far Birmingham has come.”
LaTonya Roy, 47, originally from Anchorage, Alaska and who now lives in Birmingham said she was attracted to the fest because of the word “freedom…freedom of expression, freedom to connect with a diverse group of people.”
Roy said she was looking forward to “the entertainment, the panels, and the good weather that we’re having.”
“I love it,” said Jeremy Scott, 24, of Birmingham. “It’s brought out everybody in Birmingham, I hope they continue doing it so we can do this for years to come. I know it’s the first annual, I want it to be annual.”
Scott said he and his friends saw the event on Facebook and seeing a music festival in Birmingham was something different.
“We haven’t had a festival here in a long time,” he said. “The last time I came out for a music festival was [City Stages] so it’s been a while since I’ve seen…live talent in Birmingham but it’s been amazing.”
Scott said his favorite part was seeing Midnight Star, “I’m a big funk musician fan so I’m digging it right now.”
Patrice Marbry, 39, of Chelsea, Ala. said she enjoyed the empowerment sessions.
“I like the idea of having the musical artists as well as the informational sessions,” she said.
Marbry is a board member of STREAM Innovations, a nonprofit organization that helps students develop and explore their passion for Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STREAM). She attended the “Cracking Codes: The Power of STEM” panel discussion, held in St. Paul United Methodist Church to support the organization’s CEO, Dr. Adrienne Starks.
One thing she learned was the challenges faced by people of color who drop out of their PhD programs.
It was encouraging for young people to see people who look like them on the panel with PhDs in front of their names, she said.
Another favorite was the “Justice, Empathy and Advocacy” panel, said Marbry, a regional middle school instructional coach at the University of Montevallo.
“Anthony Ray Hinton (was wrongly convicted of the 1985 murders of two fast food restaurant managers in Birmingham, sentenced to death, and held on the state’s death row for 28 years) called a lot of things the exact things that they are. As an educator I have been inclined to believe that education should be at the forefront of the Social Justice Movement.”
Scott attended the “She Decides: A Courageous Conversation about Women’s Rights” panel held in Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and said it was informative and it opened his eyes.
“I was kind of in the dark about everything but…I’m looking around and seeing what we need to change in the state, in the country, everywhere,” Scott said.
Jay Williams, 25, of Birmingham, also attended the “She Decides” panel. “We get to see what happens when women empower each other,” he said.
“I have been encouraged by seeing the turnout…I think that opportunities like this should come more to Birmingham [because] it’s just an opportunity for us to show what we have,” said Williams.
Leah Parker, 39, visiting Birmingham from Atlanta, Ga. said she enjoyed both the panels and the music.
“It’s nice to see everybody come out and just enjoy great music; everybody has been so friendly and positive,” she said. “And seeing what our city can really do . . . it’s great energy out here.”
“The music is great, you can’t beat it, live music, outside everybody is up dancing, everybody is having a memory when a song comes on, it’s been great,” she said. Her favorite part was “running into old friends and meeting some new friends.”
Vivian Davis, Alabama State Senator, said on the “She Decides” panel that women need to support one another.
“The more you share with others and you give up yourself to others the more your blessings will repeat the light onto you,” she said.