From Eatonville’s Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities in late January to Sunrise’s Grace Jamaica Jerk Festival in November, Florida lures African-Americans all year long, with a calendar rich in cultural, professional and culinary events.
They come for food, friends and football, beaches and business, music and motorcycles -- at events stretching from Pensacola to Miami Beach.
In May, more than 5,000 filmmakers, executives and movie fans converge on Miami Beach for the American Black Film Festival. The three-day event is considered the “leading venue for African-American and urban content,” and also features premieres of short films, narrative and documentaries.
For those whose visual entertainment preferences tend toward live action, May in South Florida offers up Urban Beach Week, five days of concerts, parties and unstructured revelry in Miami Beach around Memorial Day weekend.
Before that, however, winter’s chill prods Northerners and Midwesterners to turn their attention to the Jazz in the Gardens in Miami Gardens, where each March some of the best voices in R&B perform. According to organizers, more 63,000 people walked through the turnstiles for a recent event. Most came from outside South Florida, hailing mainly from the Caribbean, Canada and the continental United States.
Over the years, stars including Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, John Legend, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Chaka Khan and Gladys Knight have graced the stage at Sun Life Stadium.
While Jazz in the Gardens and other music festivals are magnets for merriment, the annual Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando is all about business. The three-day event attracts up to 700 female business executives and entrepreneurs in big groups from “Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, D.C,. California -- really all over,” said Alyssa Fant, events program director for Black Enterprise.
“The event was created for executive women of color. It was created so that companies would really have to invest in those women,” Fant said. The conference offers sessions in professional development, such as how to negotiate salaries, and lifestyle development, including golf and tennis clinics and spa treatments.
“The idea is that a happy life makes a happy worker,” Fant said. “You have to invest in their overall selves to get the best out of them.”
Florida’s diversity makes it a natural for many ethnic events, especially those that celebrate the state’s sizable Caribbean population.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the carnival season in Florida doesn’t end on Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. It heats up Memorial Day weekend with the Orlando Carnival, followed by celebrations of calypso, soca and everything Caribbean in Tampa (June), Jacksonville (September) and the granddaddy of Sunshine State carnivals in Miami-Fort Lauderdale (Columbus Day weekend in October).
Among the Caribbean-flavored events is the Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival, a June celebration of the presence of Bahamian immigrants in South Florida.
Florida’s ethnic diversity is also evident at the dining table. In September, foodies can head west to Pensacola for the annual Seafood Festival. The City of Five Flags isn’t called the Red Snapper capital of the world without good reason. The culinary celebration is just one of the cultural and musical reasons to visit the city of white sand beaches throughout the year.
For food tourists who prefer spicier fare, the Grace Jamaica Jerk Festival is mandatory. Held in Sunrise, the “largest Caribbean food festival in the United States” attracts about 16, 000 people, including professional chefs, home cooks and food and music lovers.
Strategically scheduled in November, the festival attracts large numbers of people from New York and people from the islands, especially the Bahamas and Jamaica, according to Eddy Edwards, chairman of the board and founder of the event.
“Folks in New York come down for the weather, and folks from the islands come here to enjoy some of their culture and get some shopping done,” Edwards said. “It’s never a bad time to shop.”
Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival
Soul Roll Invitational Skate Jam – Tampa
Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities – Eatonville
Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit – Orlando
Miami International Film Festival – Miami
Jazz in the Gardens – Miami Gardens
Fashion Week in Miami – Miami
Pensacola Jazz Festival
Miami Dance Festival – Miami
Tom Joyner Fantastic Voyage – Miami
Springing the Blues Festival – Jacksonville
Seabreeze Jazz Festival – Panama City
Urban Beach Week – Miami Beach
Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival – Coconut Grove
Tampa Caribbean Carnival - Tampa
American Black Film Festival - Miami
Jamaican Fest – Pensacola
MEAC/SWAC Challenge featuring FAMU vs. Mississippi Valley State – Orlando
Labor Day Blues Fest – Pensacola
Tom Joyner Family Reunion – Orlando
Caribbean Carnival – Jacksonville
Pensacola Seafood Festival – Pensacola
Miami Broward One Carnival – Broward and Miami-Dade County
28th Annual Walt Disney Florida Classic featuring FAMU vs. Bethune-Cookman University – Orlando