When Naperville celebrates its inaugural African-American Heritage Festival this weekend, organizers hope spectators will become one with the experience.
"When you watch it, yes, it's entertaining," said Osie Davenport, a member of the African-American Leadership Roundtable. "But when you get involved, it takes you deeper into it, right in the heart of the experience."
Broadening the community's cultural experiences is the purpose of the two-day celebration that includes dance performances, history lessons and a gospel festival.
The festival runs Friday and Saturday, April 16 and 17, at North Central College's Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville.
The celebration is the result of planning by the local African-American Leadership Roundtable with funding help from the city's special events and cultural amenities grant program.
The events officially begin at 6 p.m. Friday with a performance by the five-member, Waukegan-based jazz ensemble Infuzd in the lobby of Wentz Hall. A reception with local and state officials begins at 6:30 p.m.
Twenty to 30 children will perform in the Dreamers Wax Museum, where they'll dress as famous African-Americans and act out a bit of the person's life for spectators walking by. The "museum" will run in two sessions beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Friday's main stage event is a performance at 8 p.m. by liturgical dance company Called 2 Dance of the McIntyre Institute, a Florida-based school focused on art in religion.
Called 2 Dance will lead workshops at 4 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday for community members who wish to participate and perform in the Saturday Gospel Festival.
"Watching from the audience, you're like, 'I'd like to do that sometime. I wonder if I could ever do that?'" Davenport said. "And then you get a chance to dance with them."
On Saturday, the New Branch Theater Group will perform plays at 11 a.m. and noon.
Local medal winners of the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological, Scientific Olympics, known as ACT-SO, will exhibit from noon to 5 p.m. in Wentz, with performances from 1 to 3:30 p.m.
ACT-SO participants, who include high school students from Naperville, Lisle, Bolingbrook, Wheaton and Aurora, have worked with a mentor since last fall to complete a project in various areas including photography, medical health, computer science, architecture, engineering, sculpture, physics, painting and drawing, and in the performance areas of jazz, vocal, instrumental, drama, oratorical and dance.
A history workshop from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday will be presented by Glennette Tilley Turner, an author of children's books who has done extensive research on the DuPage County area's involvement in the Underground Railroad.
The weekend culminates in a gospel festival at 7 p.m. Saturday that features Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Darius Brooks. A community mass choir, open to anyone who attends the workshop at 4 p.m. Saturday, will join in the gospel festival, in addition to a performance by the North Central gospel choir.
Beyond performances, artwork from the William H. Bigham Galleries will be on display for three weeks in the North Central art gallery.
The African-American Leadership Roundtable is made up of leaders in DuPage, Kane, Will and Kendall counties who join together to look at issues affecting African-Americans in the Western suburbs.
"Participants will take away an appreciation of the culture and the heritage of the African-American community," Davenport said. "One of our goals is continuing to improve the quality of life through the appreciation of various groups' heritage."
Organizers want people to learn through experience.
"You learn more when you participate (rather) than just to spectate," said Juliet Allen of Wheaton, who is on the festival's planning committee. "This is a great opportunity for entire families."
General activities throughout the weekend are free. Main stage performances each night cost $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students and $10 for children 10 and younger.
For information, call (630) 637- 7469 or visit northcentralcollege.edu/show.
"Some people feel a little shy participating sometimes," Davenport said, "but we hope that they feel like coming out and dancing and singing, which is experiencing the culture versus just watching it."
If you go
What: African-American Heritage Festival
When: Friday and Saturday, April 16 and 17
Where: North Central College's Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville
Cost: General activities free; main stage events are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, $10 for children 10 and younger
Info: (630) 637-7469 or northcentralcollege.edu/show