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Black Heritage Festival's Founder Reflects on History of Celebration

The annual celebration of Tampa Bay's 'heart and soul' will be held from Jan. 17-26 this year.

Dr. Samuel Lamar Wright, Sr. is the student ombudsman at the University of South Florida, where he has worked since 1985.

Wright is also the founder of the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival, which will be held this year from Jan. 17-26.

We recently sat down for a chat with Wright to learn more about how the celebration of “the heart and soul of Tampa Bay” got off the ground, and what attendees can expect this year.

Patch: How did you get involved with the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival?

Wright: I was a member appointed to the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. They were interested in the fact I worked for USF. They wanted someone who was involved in the community and not to be there by name. We went to meetings to hear the results of research studies about the tourist industry and why people traveled to Tampa. They made mention of the fact we needed to lure more black travelers. I asked why African-Americans would want to come for the attractions: We lost the Florida Classic football game, the Museum of African American Art was closed and there was a festival sponsored by the Florida Education Fund that was no more.

I ended up calling a meeting to talk about how to attract more African-American travelers to the Bay Area. That was in 1999. We did the first festival around the 2001 Super Bowl, the only event sanctioned by the Super Bowl. Some people thought that was window dressing but I wanted to make sure the event was ongoing.

Patch: What's the purpose of the festival?

Wright: Prior to me getting involved with this festival, I went on trips to Africa. It opened up my eyes — the contributions we have made. It opened up my understanding of what happened in history. One place I visited was Goree Island, a major departure point for enslaved Africans. Slaves were packed in like sardines. Somehow many of them survived the trip. It was just this message of strength. I wanted to teach about roots and heritage (with the festival).

After having that epiphany, I said this story has to be told. We can use this (heritage festival) as a wonderful vehicle to educate people.

Patch: What are some highlights of this year’s events?

Wright: (The band) Con Funk Shun will be there. There is a Black Gala and a Living Legacy Luncheon. Other than that, people should check the schedule.  

Patch: What do you hope people get out of the events?

Wright: I really would like to make sure that, first, people will attend. It is so important for people to attend these events. It’s free. It’s a wonderful place for family and friends. We are starting to see more multi-racial families. It’s just nice, clean fun. The Black Heritage Festival was and is not a separatist event, too. 

Patch: Where can people find a schedule or more information?

Wright: People can go to the website at www.tampablackheritage.org.

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