City festival celebrates black culture

By C.J. Conklin

Chester Grundy never imagined when he helped found the Roots and Heritage Festival in 1989 that it would blossom into the cultural event it is today.

“When I started the festival with a small handful of other people, I didn’t think it would become as successful as it is,” said Grundy, director of multi-cultural student programming at UK.

The annual festival, which kicked off yesterday, runs through Oct. 20 and celebrates African-American art, culture and achievement. At the heart of the event is a three-day street festival running tonight through Sunday on Elm Tree Lane.

The street festival will have two stages for live entertainment along with a heritage parade Saturday at 9 a.m from Martin Luther King Boulevard to Fifth Street to Race Street.

About 150 booths featuring vendors from all around the country will be set up selling African-American art pieces, books and other cultural works, Grundy said.

Other events at the festival, which is funded by the Lexington government, personal donations and local businesses, include plays, stories and a fashion show, said Grundy, who stepped down as one of the festival leaders six years ago.

“Community development is not only on economic levels, but cultural development is important as well,” Gundy said.

Kendra Holloman, a student worker at the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center, compared the festival to a big family reunion.

African-Americans can gather with other members of the community and learn new things about their culture, Holloman said.

“There’s something new to do or something new to learn every year,” she said. “The festival pulls in all sorts of different audiences, not just African-Americans, but people from other ethnicities as well.

Since its beginning, Grundy said cultural icons such as Jerry Butler, The Stylistics, Johnny Copeland and many other African-American entertainers have performed on the street festival’s stages.

The S.O.S. Band, a rhythm and blues band that had many hits in the 70s and 80s, is headlining Saturday evening’s musical performances.  Other acts this weekend include Tank and gospel singer Vicki Winans, Holloman said.

The community event is culturally significant, Grundy said, because it gives young African-Americans perspective.

“You have to get a sense of what your past is before you know what your future can be,” Grundy said.

More information about the Roots and Heritage Festival is available at its Web site (