Third-annual African American Heritage Festival in Steubenville a success

LET’S DANCE — Dancers from Legendary Elite Dance Team prepared for their routine as their competitors from Divas of the Valley looked on during the African American Heritage Festival Community Fun Day Saturday. — Christopher Dacanay

STEUBENVILLE — The third-annual African American Heritage Festival Community Fun Day united small businesses, food vendors, musicians, dancers and ordinary citizens for an evening of relaxation and friendship.

Everything took place in and around North End Field, with food trucks and tents lined along North Seventh Street and more tents surrounding the ballpark itself. Attendees talked, laughed, patronized various vendors and enjoyed the entertainment.

C.J. Mitchell, a member of the six-person African American Heritage Festival committee that organizes the event, said the community day is the revitalization of an annual festival of the same name that used to take place in the 1990s and early 2000s but faded away after the organizer moved away.

“It’s just to celebrate African American heritage,” Mitchell said, “but we welcome all people. … It’s good food, good music and supporting local vendors.”

A spectacle that evoked plenty of cheers and drew lots of attention was a dance competition organized by Latina Featherston, owner of Soma Health and Fitness. Featherston said she used to dance at the original heritage festivals, and organizing the competition is her way of giving back to the community.

Featherston said that, for the participating girls, dancing is “a way to release stress and all the things they might be dealing with.”

Girls from two different dance groups — Divas of the Valley from the Tri-State Area and Legendary Elite Dance Team from Columbus — showed their moves back-to-back. Ultimately, LEDT took home first place and a cash prize.

Janese Boston, a lifelong friend of Featherston, said the two of them used to dance for the heritage festivals. Boston said the revival of the community day is essential because it gives kids something meaningful to do outdoors and helps them to connect with older generations.

“When will you ever see this type of love in this type of space in downtown Steubenville?” Boston asked. She added that the love present at the event was “evident.”

On the other side of the ballpark’s fence, a basketball game had just occurred, with Mitchell giving the play-by-play. The game pitted shirts against skins and ended with a 33-32 win for the shirts during sudden death.

Providing more entertainment were three musical acts. Up first was Pittsburgh artist Moses. After him came Elisha Fletcher, a Steubenville “gospel hip-hop” artist, by his own description.

Fletcher, who has been doing solo music for eight years, said of the heritage festival, “The community needs this … where everyone can come together.”

Former members of the Junior Elks Drill Team, a summertime program active in Steubenville around the 1990s, celebrated their 30-year reunion by performing a few of their drills. Afterward, they recognized and honored drill team sisters and instructors who have passed away, as well as those who are still living.

Angel West, a member of the Junior Elks, said having the sisters reunite is a “pure joy” and feels like a family gathering.

Rounding off the day’s entertainment was the Soul Skool Show Band, composed of Steubenville locals playing soulful hit song covers.

Small business vendors sold clothes, toys and everything in between.

Brandy Fetcher, owner of businesses Bee Lashed and Bundled by B, sold eyelash strips and extensions made of mink fur for the former business and sold hair extensions for the latter. Fetcher said she has had both businesses for about five years, and they evolved from her working at a hair salon.

Also, Fetcher sold fruit punch she made with Kool-Aid and various diced fruit. She said her recipe is famous in Steubenville, adding, “I’ve always made the best Kool-Aid.”

Meighen Jones-Ziegler, owner of Tru2Intent, sold various candles she makes in small batches at home. Originally beginning as an outlet during the coronavirus pandemic, Jones-Ziegler’s candle-making has brought her to producing three-wick, massage oil and crystal-infused candles.

“I had to put my energy and my stress somewhere,” said Jones-Ziegler, referring to her lockdown candle-making habit.

Pat Bailey, a member of the Ohio Valley District Federated Colored Women’s Club, ran a tent representing her business, Vontrie’s Couture Salon and Apothecary. Bailey sold graphic T-shirts she makes herself using a process called sublimation. The shirts’ designs mainly promoted African heritage or had “sarcastic” but humorous messages, Bailey said.

Leah Anderson ran a table for her business, Leah’s Wardrobe & More Boutique. Anderson emphasized the importance of the community day, because it supports others in the neighborhood through business. Also, Anderson said she tries to help others in the community who are in need through donations if she hears they need help.

Bailey is also a trained cosmetic chemist whose skin products and salon services are specially designed for those with auto-immune issues. Bailey said she got her start by creating products to soothe nurses’ skin issues while she worked at a Chicago hospital, in addition to creating products to treat her own children’s skin issues.

Chazzy Lee, owner of Pretty & Plucked, offered services for women’s eyebrows, including eyebrow cleanup and tint, at the ballpark, where clients could lay back on a table and let her get to work.

The lineup of food choices was extensive, with vendors like Nikki’s Bodega offering rib dinners, Slappin from Cleveland offering wings, Vee La Soul offering cobblers and lemonade and the Soulful Spoon Diner offering jerk chicken over rice.

Although not located with the other food vendors, Auntie A’s Sweets and Treats sold desserts, specifically cake jars. Owner Ariane Robinson said the cake jars — coming in flavors including red velvet, sweet potato cheesecake and banana pudding — are made by baking cake and then layering small jars with the cake, icing and cheesecake filling.

Nicole Hython, chair of the African American Heritage Festival committee, said the turnout this year was great, and the event this year has been bigger and better following poor weather that hurt the event in 2022.

Mitchell said preliminary talks have begun regarding making the festival a three-day event.

Troy Seals, who attended the community day, said “It’s a good opportunity to see everybody at once.”

Seals, who was visiting from Maryland, said he came to visit family, including his mother,

Gloria Seals, who was celebrating her birthday weekend on Saturday.

Sam Wood said the event is “very nice,” and “It brings a lot of people in the community that are normally not together. … Look around. There’s no negativity. Everybody’s laughing.”

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