LAURINBURG — Residents can expect this weekend’s first-ever Tema Festival to bring thousands of visitors to Scotland County for a cultural experience that will include food, games, performances and education.
The festival will be held Saturday and Sunday in downtown Laurinburg and runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days. The event is being sponsored by the African American Cultural Society of Scotland County and takes its name from a town in the African country of Ghana.
“We hope through the festival people will have a greater understanding of African American history,” said Nana Aku Opata, president of the African American Cultural Society of Scotland County. “The festival will emphasize African American history of Scotland County, the state of North Carolina and the United States.”
But organizers say Tema will offer more than a history lesson with plenty to do, see and eat. The group expects as many as 7,000 people to attend the two-day event spread out across Atkinson, Fairly, Cronly and Roper streets.
“I want to get everybody from the north side of town and the south side of town and bring them together. I don’t care about people being black or white, it’s about bringing everyone together,” said Vaicardo Riggins, a festival volunteer.
The festival will also include a Miss Tema Scholarship Pageant Friday at 7 p.m.; a Zumbathon dance event planned for Saturday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.; and an inter-faith service at 11 a.m. followed by a gospel concert at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.
There will be face and body painting by artist Tiffany Beckler of the reality television show “Skin Wars.” There will be a car and bike show with prizes awarded. A cornhole tournament and games such as spades, dominoes and chess are also part of the festival.
Richard Griffin, also known as Professor Griff from the rap group “Public Enemy” and Khalid el-Hakim, the founder of the Black History 101 Mobile museum will talk about everything from slavery to hip hop throughout the day at the Storytelling Arts Center. Donations are requested.
“The mobile museum will feature artifacts dating back to the trans-Atlantic slave trade all the way up to modern culture,” Opata said. “There will be original slave shackles, a tribute to Prince and also one for Muhammad Ali. So there will be a wide range of items from across history.”
About 80 vendors will be selling food, clothing and arts and crafts, among other goods. Festival organizers are still accepting vendor registrations until Friday.
Tema is the latest event to join a roster of local festivals from now until mid-October, including the Kuumba African-American Festival, Highland Games, John Blue House Festival and the Storytelling Festival of Carolina.
“The Tema Festival is a great opportunity to kick off the festival season here in Scotland County,” said Cory Hughes, director of the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority. The TDA gave Tema a $9,000 grant to help promote the event.
Opata said the grant is a good investment to attract visitors and vendors to Laurinburg.
“One of our initial goals was to make an economic impact on the county through the festival,” she said. “There should be 5,000 to 7,000 people in attendance based on the marketing we have done in the area.
“The majority of our vendors and acts are coming from out of town. They are coming from Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro and Atlanta. We have a couple of our acts coming from Atlanta and a couple from Chicago — so we are going to have a national presence here.”
Several downtown business owners said they were excited about what the festival may mean for Laurinburg.
“It is something new and I love that they are bringing it downtown, which is exactly what downtown Laurinburg needs,” said Chris English, director of the Scotland County/Laurinburg Area Chamber of Commerce. “On the way back from Charlotte I saw a billboard for the Tema Festival and it is great to see they are investing a lot in the event.”
Jim Willis, former Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation president, said the Tema Festival could be an important part of focusing attention on the downtown district.
“I hope the festival becomes an annual event,” Willis said.
Opata added that the event can also serve as a boon to local vendors.
“We want to make sure that Scotland County people, churches and civic groups know that they can use the event as a platform to raise to funds by capturing outside dollars,” Opata said. “We have a lot of outside vendors but we want our resident to benefit by keeping some of those local dollars local.”
Vendor registration is still available until Friday. For non-profit organization, there is a $25 fee for a 10×10 space and $75 for a 10×20 space. Those with questions about the event or vending can call 910-706-7252.
Because downtown parking may be limited, Scotland High School will serve as the designated parking area and a free shuttle service will be available to take festival goers to and from downtown, according to Terence Williams, the event’s logistics coordinator.
Reach Nolan Gilmour at 910-506-3171