Residents celebrate Afrikana

YOUNGSTOWN – Carla Brown said she can’t quite explain how the small doll fresheners on her merchant’s table came to be.

The Warren woman smiled as people lined up to get a closer look at her creations: African dolls made out of air fresheners covered with hand-crafted clothing.

“I don’t really know how I came up with it. I just put one together one day and worked on the doll over time and developed it from there. What you seen now is what’s evolved,” Brown explained.

She said that she and her husband, Larry, used to sell the dolls at shows and markets years ago, but had gotten away from it. After attending the annual Black History Afrikana Month marketplace on Saturday, she decided it might be time to display the dolls more often and to allow more people to see her “Art of Freshness: Doll Air Fresheners.”

“It’s been a long time for us, more than 20 years since we did this, but I’m really enjoying it. This has been great,” she said.

The Browns were among the more than 30 vendors gathered inside Youngstown State University’s Kilcawley Center for the event, which is in its 14th year. Hundreds of people passed through the doors, watched the dancers and browsed the jewelry, purses, clothing, music, books, musical instruments and other items on display and for sale.

“This is a great event to kick off Black History Month. It brings it all together for people who really want to celebrate African culture, history, the people,” explained Antonio Wilson, a YSU student who has been involved with YSU’s African Studies Department for several years. “I love being part of this.”

Dr. Victor Wan-Tatah, a professor and the director of Africana Studies at YSU, said the marketplace typically draws people and vendors from across the region. He said attendance reaches beyond the YSU campus and into the community.

“I think maybe the weather was a factor this year and that it kept some people away. But we still had a great turnout and a lot of support from the city and other areas.

“It really is something for people who don’t have an opportunity to see or buy African artifacts, creations or outfits that represent African culture and the people. It’s a chance for people to come together and experience the culture. It also gives people a chance to share their art and their creations with others,” he explained.

Haben Voorhies said she loves it all: the clothing, the crafts, the dancers, the music and the people.

The 16-year-old Girard High School sophomore attended the event for the first time last year and said that she appreciated it so much that she wanted to come back on Saturday.

“I love how everyone embraces the African-American culture. There’s so much excitement here. I love the opportunity to learn about the culture,” she said.

Voorhies was born in Ethiopia. She was adopted by Sean and Amanda Voorhies of Girard several years ago. She said the annual marketplace has given her a better perspective on a culture other than her own.

“You just really learn to appreciate people, the differences and the similarities,” she said.

Cassandra Benjamin of Youngstown said she enjoys the opportunity to see people she doesn’t get to see throughout the year.

“It’s a community. It’s a celebration of African heritage but it’s beyond that. It’s a chance for everyone whose interested in learning about a culture to come together. You have so much here, right in one place. I think it’s important for everyone, but it’s really nice to see the young people here, for them to learn to appreciate what each of them has to offer, what they’re about, the history. It’s exciting,” she said.