This week I have the good fortune of being at the Virginia Key Grassroots Festival on Virginia Key in Miami, FL. This festival is the sister to the Fingerlakes Grassroots Festival in Trumansburg, NY and the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival near Siler City, NC. The Fingerlakes festival was started by the band Donna the Buffalo and their friends in 1990.
My band has played the NY and NC Grassroots festivals over the years, and it has always been a positive experience. We have been exposed to an abundance of exceptional music at these festivals, from Keith Frank to Tartit the Horseflies and beyond. Moreover, the festival producers are dedicated to social justice, raising money and awareness for a number of righteous causes and concepts. Grassroots also has the most effective “zero waste” practices I have seen at any event. I hold their team in high regard.
The Virginia Key festival is the newest of the three, and this is our first year there. In addition to performing with my band Krekel & Whoa, I will be hosting two workshops: “What’s Up With Whiteness?” (h/t to AVL SURJ for that title) and “A Conversation About Collective Liberation” (thanks to CPC for keeping collective liberation on my mind). Facilitating workshops is brand new to me. Having been asked to contribute to the festival in this way, I am nervous yet ready to reach out of my comfort zone for the greater good. Wish me luck!
In preparation for our travels, I did some research about Miami. In particular, I watched this documentary, “The Black Miami.”
Watching The Black Miami, I was struck by the similarities I saw between Miami and Asheville’s black history. Both cities were built on Native American land and sacred sites. Both cities had African Americans as some of the earliest non-native people there. (The first African American in Asheville, a man named Gomez, arrived in 1540.) Both cities grew as tourist towns thanks to significant black labor, though for the most part blacks did not reap the benefits of the prosperity they helped create. Both cities had black neighborhoods which were flourishing communities unto themselves. People in Miami speak wistfully of the thriving days of Overtown, much as people in Asheville speak of the hay day of The Block or Southside. In both cities, those black communities were virtually decimated during Urban Renewal, as roads were built through or over them.
Another similarity is that, as tourist towns, it can be argued that the city leaders of Miami and Asheville were particularly concerned about preventing unrest regarding civil rights. The main site of the festival, Virginia Key Beach Park, is actually an example of this. Virginia Key Beach became a designated beach for blacks in 1945, after a “wade in” organized by a group of community leaders. Their demand for a beach was met quickly, to keep the city’s peace. Click here or below to watch a short video about this history of Virginia Key Beach. During the festival, park staff will be giving tours and talks about the history, I am looking forward to that.
It was valuable for me to learn about the history of blacks in another American city, especially one so different from my own, and to see the story of our city reflected in it. Understanding these patterns across our country is important as we work to unravel systemic racism.
On this trip, I intend to replenish my creative juices, and to bring back new insights that will strengthen my ability to effectively play my part in the transformation our mountain town.
Peace and love.