Barbara Howell Park in Urbana will be the site of a new event this summer.
The Urbana Black Heritage Festival will fill the park and two city blocks nearby at 213 E. Market St. with a variety of activities on Saturday, June 18 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“It’s time to celebrate our history! This festival is a way of remembering important people and local events in the history of the Urbana community,” according to the event’s local organizers, led by Kalen Howell. “Our mission is to bring the community together to learn, share and celebrate our families across many generations. This Juneteenth we are celebrating Urbana’s rich legacy and we want you to celebrate with us!”
The festival is currently using electronic platforms including a website and a Facebook page to organize the event and attract participants.
The website is www.urbanaheritagefestival.org and the direct point of contact is by email to [email protected].
The Urbana Black Heritage Festival is being supported by the 501c3 tax exempt The River of Life Christian Center.
“We are coming together as a community to celebrate the history and legacy of many local families and their contributions to Champaign County,” according to the website. “This will be a family-friendly celebration with live musical entertainment, spoken word artists, a car show, food truck vendors, small business market and much, much more.”
For more information on how to share monetary gifts and festival donations, or to RSVP for the festival, visit www.urbanaheritagefestival.org.
The Urbana Black Heritage Festival curators said they have “strong ties to the local Urbana community and want to use this time of celebration to give back and elevate the community they grew up in.” They explain the sponsorship and partnership contributions to the festival will be poured back into the community through these three primary areas of impact:
-Revitalization of Barbara Howell Park
-Support for homeless in Champaign County
-Scholarships and mentoring for youth
A series of local stories has been compiled about black history in Urbana.
John Bry has curated the series of articles and is a festival committee member. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Historic Preservation and is the Administrator of Local Business Development and Program Coordinator of the Main Street Program for Oakland County Michigan’s Department of Economic Development.
Bry leads a staff of five in Michigan, working with downtown development and revitalization in 27 different downtowns in Oakland County (metropolitan Detroit). It is the only such county-wide program in the U.S. He took up residency in Urbana again in late 2020 in his parents’ former home while taking on its re-restoration. Bry splits his time between Ohio and Michigan.
Bry is also one of the founders of the Champaign County Preservation Alliance, and his late mother started the Historic Home and Garden Tour based on one in Marshall, Michigan. He served as the downtown director in Urbana from 2000-2004, and has placed St. Paul’s Church, the Sewall House and the former Urbana North and South Elementary schools on the National Register of Historic Places over the years. He serves on the Urbana Design Review Board and Oak Dale Cemetery Advisory Board.
“Kalen and I are also involved in another effort with the African American Heritage and Culture Project. The project received a small planning grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and we are just getting started in moving that forward,” Bry said. “Kim Gordon Brooks has been involved in that process from beginning as well. It’s good to be home and helping the community any way I can. I am in awe of the depth of African American history in Urbana and Champaign County and thank Kalen for including me in the festival’s efforts.”
In the upcoming weeks, the Urbana Daily Citizen will be publishing stories leading up to June 18. The first story in the series, about Barbara Howell, is printed in today’s edition.