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African American fest gets crowd moving

August 22, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - The dance troupe moved on Vermonica Thomas' cue.

Thomas, 18, of Rockville, Md., blew her whistle, signaling beat changes and new dance routines for the drummers and the dancers in her group as they performed Saturday in Charles Town.

The setting was the 12th annual African American Cultural and Heritage Festival, which included activities for families, a motorcycle parade and community health information and services.

But the dance troupe - The Finest! Youth Performance Troupe - got people moving.

Just before a second performance Saturday afternoon, Thomas and the youth group's leader explained what they were going to do, and what it meant.

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"We're about to do ... the ripple into the breakdown," Thomas said.

The ripple, the cool march and the breakdown were the dances put together by the 20 or so boys and girls in the group. The girls performed the dance, and boys and girls drummed the beats.

The hip-hop, African and jazz rhythms inspired the audience, who cheered at the end of the 15-minute performance.

Karen Rawlins, Thomas' youth group leader, said the dance moves took a few months to get down. The performers audition in February, and they begin performing in May.

But The Finest! also is a character-building, after-school organization, Rawlins said. She said this is the fourth year the group has performed in Jefferson County.

Rawlins said she hopes the group stands as an example for other African Americans to get involved in community, to get involved in education and "just stay busy."

A handful of black teachers who taught in Jefferson County schools before integration also were at the festival.

Vivian Fleming, 84, who began teaching in Jefferson County in 1948, said she thought the festival was doing good things for the black community.

"There should be something to motivate them," Fleming said.

She said events such as the festival are needed because educated blacks who grow up in Jefferson County are not encouraged to stay there because of a lack of jobs.

She said the festival is an eye opener

"There are other things in the world aside from this little town," Fleming said.

Delores Jackson Foster, 66, taught briefly in Charles Town in the 1960-61 school year. She moved to New Jersey, but has kept in contact with Charles Town and is buying a home here.

She said the festival appears to show community growth.

"These black folks who stayed here have continued to uplift and celebrate those black folks on whose shoulders they now stand," Foster said.

"It's good that they did this."

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