Saturday, August 18, 2007

One Road, Two Events, Worlds Apart

On one end of Woodward Avenue, starting in Ferndale and extending north all the way through Pontiac, the annual rolling street party officially known as the Woodward Dream Cruise is taking place today. An estimated one million people line up along the Dream Cruise route to spend all day admiring thousands of vintage cars, mostly American-made models from the 50's and 60's, evoking memories of the times when cruising up and down Woodward was practically a rite of passage for many suburbanites.

At the southern-most point of Woodward, where the avenue intersects with Jefferson Avenue in the city of Detroit, another annual event that attracts at least 100,000 mostly African-American visitors is also taking place, the African World Fest, presented by the Museum of African American History (MAAH). African World Fest is a three-day long showcase of the diverse diaspora of African culture, including fraternity and sorority stepshows, artists, and vendors selling all things Afrocentric.

One road, two events, worlds apart.

The Dream Cruise has received extensive coverage from local media during the week that leads up to the event, even though the actual cruise didn't officially begin until today. Significant portions of local television newscasts are dedicated just to covering this event, which has grown significantly from what was supposed to be a modest fundraiser just a few years ago.

Meanwhile, the African World Fest, despite its 25-year existence, barely even registers on the media's radar screen. And in the one article that I saw in today's Detroit News that covered the event, the news was not good. Apparently, this year's event was at the risk of being scaled back and relocated to the grounds of the MAAH, because the event's organizers (the MAAH) were not initially able to raise the $400,000 required to put on the event. The City of Detroit provided the event organizers $200,000 this year to help cover the expenses, but this funding is not promised for next year.

Personally, I don't even pretend to be a classic car buff, and could care less about the Dream Cruise. And I believe that the attention that the media gives to this event, which has very little positive economic impact for Michigan, is excessive. However, I wouldn't be as bothered with this if the African World Fest wasn't treated like a stepchild, year in and year out, having to always unsuccessfully compete with the Dream Cruise for attention. How is it that, in a metropolitan area with a significant African-American presence, an event such as the African World Fest get almost completely ignored by mainstream media?

One would think that an event like African World Fest would be a magnet for corporate sponsors trying to reach black consumers. But for whatever reason, the organizers have not attracted the necessary amount of sponsorship dollars needed to keep the event financially viable. To me, it seems appears that changes are needed at the MAAH's fundraising office, as well as its board of directors. Board members of non-profit organizations are usually highly-influential and well-connected members of the community who are supposed to have the muscle to generate donations for the institutions they serve.

In contrast, the Dream Cruise has consistently been able to raise sponsorship dollars, even in Michigan's troubled economy.

I just hope that by this time next year, both ends of Woodward Avenue, from Oakland County to the Detroit riverfront will be bustling with activity, whether it be the roaring of engines or the beating of African drums.

One road, two events, worlds apart.