WARREN - It's hard to say what makes the African American Achievers Festival so popular. Some say it's the food, some the rides and others the entertainment, but one thing is certain: Everybody has fun.
The three-day event held at Courthouse Square in Warren kicked off the summer festival season this week. Today, the 29th-annual fest wraps up with Gospel Sunday, when churches and choirs, both local and from out-of-state, come together to worship and celebrate with the community.
"They come near and far to join us. It's the biggest hit of the festival," said Trumbull County African American Achievers Association president Bob Davis.
Na’Jhay Jones, 13, left, and her cousin, Emani Benson, 5, take a ride Saturday during the 29th annual African American Achievers Festival on Courthouse Square in Warren.
Another big hit this year was the Health Fair on the Square, which featured information and screenings by area doctors and medical professionals, including bone density scans, blood pressure checks, and dental and vision tests.
"I took the eye test. I know that I need some glasses," said Yolanda Singleton of Youngstown.
"She will be going to the eye doctor," assured her friend, Barbara Thomas of Youngstown. "The best thing was the health fair. That was really, really nice. There was a whole lot of information on health issues," she said.
The women said they attend the event every year, and this time they plan on making it down for all three days.
"It's not too hot, it's not too cold. You see a lot of friends, a lot of people you work with," Thomas said.
"I just love it; it's different every year. I like the food, too. It's a lot of fun. We come all the way from Youngstown to enjoy it because it's different," Singleton said.
Myeshia Grubbs, 10, of Warren, was enjoying a trip down the giant slide with her 6-year-old brother, Edward.
"I really do like that ride. The stairs get me scared sometimes," she said, adding that she attends the festival every year.
Councilman Greg Bartholomew, D-4th Ward, said he usually eats a gyro once a day during the festival, conveniently located in front of his store, All American Comics and Cards on West Market Street.
"Yeah, it's time for your sugar and greasy food fix," he said. "I always get some of Guy's ribs, too."
Bartholomew said the festival always brings new faces into his shop, and although his favorite part is the food, he appreciates all of the unique items offered by the vendors.
Apparel and jewelry vendor Mamadou Dia of Michigan said he has been setting up at the festival for the past four years and likes the location, although he said the unstable economy makes it challenging.
"It's harder to make money now, anywhere you go," he said.
More than 500 people attended the festival on Friday, Davis said, and he expects to bring in at least 5,000 over the three-day event, which is growing more each year.
"Time flies when you're having fun, and we just want everybody to come out and have fun. What we're trying to do here is just keep Van Williams' legacy alive," he said.
Williams started the festival in 1985, and his wife, Corolla, took over when he passed away. She said running the festival is challenging, but even more difficult is the weight of his absence.
"I think he'd be proud that it's still going on. It gives the kids something to do to keep out of trouble, to relieve the tension," she said.
The proceeds from each year's event, which was sponsored by CenturyLink, will fund scholarships for area high school students.
"His dream was always to give scholarships to the kids. We would like to give more," Williams said.
Davis said the mission of the festival is to promote brotherhood, lessen neighborhood tensions, promote homecoming events as well as fund the scholarship program.
"It's for people to have fellowship together, enjoy the rides, the games, the entertainment, the food, and to celebrate our rich heritage and culture right in the heart of downtown Warren," he said.