By Lauren Tjaden
Florida’s diversity makes it a natural for ethnic events, especially those that celebrate the state’s sizable Caribbean population. You can experience and celebrate African American culture and contributions – through music, film, presentations, parades and more—all over the Sunshine State. Read on to discover some of the annual offerings.
Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities, Eatonville, zorafestival.org
“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.” The words of Zora Neale Hurston still resonate today. Brilliant, sensitive, and eloquent, this novelist, short story writer, folklorist, and anthropologist is considered one of the foremost writers of twentieth-century African American literature. Held the last week of January, the ZORA! Festival honors and celebrates her life and work, as well as her hometown of Eatonville, the nation’s oldest incorporated African American municipality. Its roster includes museum exhibitions, public talks, panel discussions, workshops and concerts. A three-day Outdoor Festival of the Arts rounds out the event.
Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival, Tampa, tampablackheritage.org
This ten-day celebration ushers in the Martin Luther King Holiday Weekend in Tampa Bay, a vibrant region that embodies diversity. It highlights the contributions of African Americans in the U.S. and how they’ve impacted the country. It includes live entertainment, cultural events, health tutorials, business seminars, renowned speakers, food and craft vendors, plus a music fest featuring national recording artists.
Florida Entertainment Summit, Tallahassee, www.fesummit.com
If you’re in the entertainment business – or you want to be—this summit boasts a track record for providing opportunities for models, filmmakers, recording artists, producers and entrepreneurs to network with influential entertainment decision-makers. It provides insights on selling products, industry trends, how to broker deals, promote new music, and introduce new or returning artists. Guests have included Grammy Award winners, video directors, models, and platinum recording artists such as John Legend, Robert Townsend Jr., Rick Ross, and many more.
Sistrunk Parade, Fort Lauderdale, www.sistrunkfestival.org/events
Broward County's rich multi-cultural flavor and strong traditions are on display in this family-friendly parade. The newly upgraded Sistrunk Boulevard corridor will be brimming with school marching bands, high school ROTC, and drill teams as well as local business owners and politicians atop decorated floats. It’s anything but a snooze: the parade is dedicated to energizing and uniting participants, onlookers, and supporters. The route begins at Lincoln Park, located on Northwest Nineteenth Avenue, and ends on Northwest Ninth Avenue. Don’t rush home; the Urban Music Festival begins immediately after the parade.
Sistrunk Annual Street Festival, Fort Lauderdale, www.sistrunkfestival.org/events
A festival by any other name smells as sweet! Formerly known as the Sistrunk Historical Street Festival, the Sistrunk Annual Street Festival is an event you won’t want to miss. This highly acclaimed event celebrates the accomplishments of people of African descent, unifying the people with an evening of free, star-studded entertainment and community-based presentations. The Festival is centered between Northwest Ninth Avenue and Northwest Twelfth Avenue on Sistrunk Boulevard.
Miami International Film Festival, Miami, miamifilmfestival.com/festivals/
Big names, bright lights, and brilliant new talent: this festival features them all. The festival strives to “bridge cultural understanding and encourage artistic development by provoking thought through film,” and it delivers in spades. Its unique programming has introduced a powerhouse of renowned filmmakers. The stars that have graced its red carpet are powerhouses too; Gregory Peck, Sofia Loren, Kate Hudson, Helen Hunt, and Gloria Estefan are but a few of the instantly recognizable names. The festival begins the first Friday in March and runs for 10 days.
Jazz in the Gardens, Miami Gardens, JazzInTheGardens
Get ready to groove to the tunes of world class artists like Aretha Franklin, Janelle Monae and Babyface at this legendary music festival, produced by the City of Miami Gardens. Hosted by comedy legend and entertainment mogul Rick Smiley, it boasts a dynamic mix of musical genres, spanning two days of revelry.
Pensacola JazzFest, Pensacola, jazzpensacola.com/index.php/jazzfest/
JazzFest, held annually for over 30 years in historic Seville Square in downtown Pensacola, offers two-days of free, live music, as well as food, wine and beer, soft drinks, arts and crafts and jazz merchandise.
Springing the Blues Festival, Jacksonville, springingtheblues.com
The Blues were born in the Deep South around the end of the 19th century. This melancholic music of African American folk origin pours out passion, sorrow and joy. Springing the Blues, a free festival held on the shores of Jacksonville Beach for more than 25 years, celebrates this musical genre with its laid-back, inclusive vibe. It’s family friendly, and features three days of performances by national, regional and local blues artists, drawing more than 150,000 fans.
Seabreeze Jazz Festival, Panama City Beach, seabreezejazzfestival.com
Fabulous sugar-sand beaches, top smooth jazz artists, and good times under the sun combine to make Seabreeze Jazz Festival a must-do event. Named a "Top 10 Jazz Festival in the USA" by JazzIZ Magazine and recently nominated as "Best Jazz Festival" at the Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards, the event draws over 20,000 fans with four days of music and fun.
The Tampa Bay Blues Festival, St. Petersburg, www.tampabaybluesfest.com/
Every year since 1995, Vinoy Park, snuggled against the shores of Tampa Bay, has hosted some of the biggest names in Blues, including Buddy Guy, George Thorogood and Jerry Lee Lewis. Touted as one of the world’s finest blues music events, this festival boasts three days of music, a kick-off party and after parties, as well as food, beer, wine, mixed drinks, vendors and arts and crafts.
Tampa Caribbean Carnival, Tampa, www.tampabaycaribbeancarnival.com/
Steeped in tradition, this colorful event showcases the vibrant Caribbean-American cultures. It includes a J’ouvert morning experience (J’ouvert means day break or morning, and marks the start of the Carnival) as well as exhibits, crafts, top-name entertainment, vendors, a street parade, a Steelpan Jamboree, carnival music and high-stepping masquerade bands.
5th Avenue Arts Festival, Gainesville, www.culturalartscoalition.org/annual-5th-ave-arts-festival/
The culture of African-Americans in Gainesville runs deep and rich, and this festival celebrates it in high form, with three days of art, entertainment and music. The Festival kicks off on Friday with highly renowned artists visiting public schools to demonstrate their craft. The second day marks the start of public festivities that boast a gospel program, dancers, local bands, and singers that include national headliners, as well as historical and Black History traveling exhibits. The third day offers a relaxed Sunday afternoon of jazz and reggae from local and national bands.
Urban Beach Week, Miami Beach, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_Beach_Week
This annual mega-party offers five days of concerts, parties and unstructured revelry in Miami Beach around Memorial Day weekend.
American Black Film Festival, Miami Beach, www.abff.com
Heralded as the premier pipeline for Black talent in front of and behind the camera, this annual event has been encouraging and rewarding artistic excellence since 1997. It promises five days brimming with films, documentaries, shorts and Web originals, in addition to 30 events and networking opportunities devoted to helping the careers of festival attendees. They include talent discovery programs co-programmed with leading media companies, independent film screenings, master classes, panels, celebrity conversations, and entertainment.
Miami/Bahamas Junkanoo Festival, Coconut Grove, www.miamiandbeaches.com/events
Formerly known as the Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival, the Junkanoo Festival sounds exotic and unusual—and it is. Dedicated to celebrating Bahamian culture, this free event features intricate, colorful costumes; vibrant music made from cowbells, goat-skin drums and brass instruments; a parade swaying with Bahamian entertainers and Junkanoo performers; and Bahamian dishes like callaloo, conch soup, and fish chowder. The Coconut Grove neighborhood, a community with deep Bahamian roots, is host to the event.
Brightstar Credit Union / Sistrunk Gala & Fundraiser, Fort Lauderdale, www.sistrunkfestival.org/events
A fundraiser dinner, entertainment, and dancing combine to make this event a highly anticipated party-with-a-purpose. Attendees don costumes for the fun-filled, theme based event, which supports students of Broward County, raises funds for Sistrunk Scholarships, and recognizes community leaders who make a positive difference.
Afro-Cuban Dance Festival, Miami, ife-ile.org
Utterly unique and electrifying, this festival celebrates Afro-Cuban culture. It’s thrilling to watch the IFE-ILE Afro-Cuban Dance Company perform to live music --played on bata drums, congas, chekeres, yesa drums and more – with their vibrant costumes and contagious energy. But you don’t have to be just a spectator. The festival includes dance workshops for Orishas, the Congo, the Rumba Guaguanco and much more, all with live accompaniment, as well as panel discussions. Esteemed guest artists from past festivals include La Familia Cepeda from Puerto Rico, the African American Ensemble, and the late Dr. Katherine Dunham.
Caribbean Carnival, Jacksonville, jacksonvillecarnival.com
This celebration of Caribbean culture boasts a lively street parade complete with Caribbean costumes and music, an elaborate food festival that lets you experience the flavors and aromas of Caribbean food, Caribbean craft displays, and a stage show featuring cultural performances.
MEAC/SWAC Challenge, location varies, meacswacchallenge.com/
The annual Historically Black College Football game showcases a team from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference, a tradition that began in 2005. But the celebration reaches far beyond the game. It includes the Welcome Reception, where sports industry professionals offer insights, as well as the Band Showcase, tailgate party and pep rally. You won’t want to miss the Halftime Battle of the Bands, a fiercely contended rivalry, or the Legends Award, established in 2009, that honors individuals whose achievements have impacted HBCUs. To say it’s a big deal is an understatement: The game is televised nationally on ESPN and is owned by ESPN Events.
Jacksonville Jazz Festival, Jacksonville, jacksonvillejazzfest.com
It’s no mystery why this Jazz Festival is one of the largest in the country. A tradition for over 30 years, the talent is all-star, with a legacy of jazz legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Branford Marsalis, Buddy Guy, Harry Connick, Jr., Mavis Staples and many more. It offers three stages of live entertainment, local food, drinks and shopping throughout 15 blocks of downtown Jacksonville. And just when you think it can’t get any better, it does: The Festival is free.
Daytona Beach Blues Festival, Daytona Beach, www.daytonabeach.com/events/
It’s all about the blues when this three-day festival dances into historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona Beach. Held the weekend before Columbus Day, the festival features nationally known and up-and-coming blues artists, luring fans from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. There’s an added bonus: The festival is entirely run by unpaid volunteers and all proceeds benefit local women’s and children’s health services.
Black Expo South, Jacksonville, www.blackexposouth.com/
Encompassing a vast array of experiences and opportunities, the Expo offers a spa, health and wellness seminars, business opportunities and employment help, best-selling authors and political analysts, as well as celebrity guests like YAZZ (aka Hakeem) from Empire and actress Angela Robinson.
Miami Broward One Carnival, Broward and Miami-Dade County, miamicarnival.org/
If you want an experience you’ll never forget, this legendary carnival will do the trick. You’ll see over 18,000 masqueraders trailing the Music Truck like the Pied Piper in the Parade of the Bands, wearing a kaleidoscope of beads and feathers, and enormous King and Queen costumes, some more than 15 feet wide and 20 feet tall. You’ll hear the tender melodies of the steelpan, and a powerhouse line up of acts in concert, like Machel Montano, David Rudder, Super Blue, Stalin, and more. And you’ll taste the islands, too, with jerk, curry, or stew. Arts and crafts, a business expo, the J’ouvert, and a Junior Carnival round out the fun.
Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival, Miramar, jerkfestival.com/
This festival is all about hot music, spicy food and cool vibes. Foodies will adore the fiery jerk delicacies and Caribbean cuisine, tastings and wine pairings, as well as cooking demonstrations by renowned chefs. Three stages with a variety of traditional and contemporary performances by popular local and international performers promise to keep you entertained.
Florida Blue Florida Classic, Orlando, www.floridaclassic.org
The biggest Black college football game in the country, the Florida Classic is the annual showdown between the Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman University and the Rattlers of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. Held at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, over 1,500,000 fans have attended since the first game in 1978—and you shouldn’t miss it either. The halftime show is as legendary as the game, with marching bands from both universities competing.