Denver’s Black Arts Festival highlights Obama candidacy

Denver’s City Park was pulsating on Sunday with the back beat of African drums at the 22nd annual Black Arts Festival. The event, which kicked off on Friday and ended on Sunday evening, featured gospel music, hip-hop performances, a parade, and a bustling bazaar of vendors. The number of festival-goers has reached more than 100,000 in recent years, with a mix of people visiting with the mostly black vendors. Though this year’s festival included similar recitals as years past, one major development permeated the event: the candidacy of Barack Obama. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s image was everywhere, on buttons, posters, caps, and T-shirts that read "Barack Obama is my homeboy" and "Yes we can."

Amid imported African beads, wood sculptures, and T-shirts that read "Danger: Educated Black Woman" was a booth wo-manned by Pat Duncan, a photographer for Denver’s Urban Spectrum newspaper, which reports on issues surrounding the city’s black community.

Duncan set up an Obama tent at the Black Arts Festival featuring images she captured of him at a 2006 event in Aurora and has since applied to hats and T-shirts with the slogan "A Change is Gonna Come." That phrase is from a 1964 song by Sam Cooke, and Duncan says it reminds her of the Obama candidacy. 

"It is so fitting with what is going on now," she says, adding that Obama’s decision to move his DNC acceptance speech from the Pepsi Center to Invesco Field at Mile High stadium speaks of the candidate’s pledge to stand for all people. "He has an American agenda." 

Duncan also underscored the significance of Obama delivering his Invesco speech on Aug. 28 — which marks the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream" speech.

Obama’s image also featured prominently in Lynn Ware’s booth. Ware, from Oklahoma City, was selling black memorabilia, from framed magazine covers with Obama to posters with Jimi Hendrix. There were also reproductions of several Jim Crow-era signs, such as a 1942 replica that read "No dogs, Negroes, or Mexicans." Ware says that his inclusion of one of the darkest times in black history serves as a reminder for younger generations.

"When our black children come in and look at the Jim Crow items, they laugh," he says. "When older people come in, they say they don’t want to see it. That’s why our children laugh at it, because it’s not taught to them."

Ware calls slavery in the United States the "American Holocaust" and advocates for better black history education in public schools and at home.

"Unfortunately, segregation — or whatever you want to call it — has been a part of the history of the United States," he says. "We were forced here, but other people came on their own. They faced discrimination as well, but after a couple of generations they lost their accents. If you are a person of color, you will always be a person of color."