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Festival celebrating African heritage in Oklahoma Panhandle forges closer community ties AZUMA By JuliAnn Graham W


hen Guymon residents fi rst started seeing Africans around their community several years ago, many people shied away from them because they were different. Attitudes and percep- tions for both Africans and non-Africans were transformed


during a special celebration last year. Azuma: An African Celebration was such a huge success in 2013 that it is planned again this year for downtown Guymon on Sunday, Aug. 10, at 4 p.m. About 400 people went to last year’s free festival featuring traditional music, dance, costumes, food tasting and storytelling from several different African countries. Azuma is an Arabic word for festival. “Azuma is the best event with which I’ve been involved,” said Melyn


Johnson, Main Street Guymon project director and Tri-County Electric Cooperative (TCEC) member. “I’m honored to have been a part of it.” Johnson invited photographers from the Main Street Guymon Shutterbugs group to come to the event and take photos. Photographer and TCEC member Arlene Winfrey shared her impressions of the celebration. “The sounds of drums and children laughing, the smells of cooking, and the general air of happiness mixed with gratitude were overwhelming and amazing,” she said. “As a photographer, I had to ground myself and start focusing on moments.” The celebration has been recognized at the state level with an award for ‘Creative New Event’ from the Oklahoma Main Street Center and an ‘Outstanding New Event Award of Merit’ from the Oklahoma Travel Industry Association. Main Street Guymon organized Azuma with the support of a large plan- ning committee comprised of about 20 Africans and non-Africans. Johnson said the event wouldn’t have been possible without volunteer event coor- dinator Shannon Albert. Albert, a TCEC member, founded Nhomlaau International Association, a nonprofi t Christian ministry, in February 2013. While the organization focuses its efforts in South Sudan, Albert has also assisted Africans who are new to Guymon by helping them navigate the


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area and establish themselves. She plans to move to South Sudan as a full time missionary in October.


Albert’s trusted relationship with Africans in Guymon helped her to form a planning committee with volunteers from countries like South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Eritrea and Ethiopia. “Azuma was not about celebrating Africa so much as Africans sharing their culture and themselves with their community,” Albert said. “It was about community, goodwill, respect, learning and sharing.” Johnson credited the committee’s work with the local Guymon Daily


Herald newspaper for drawing such a large crowd to the fi rst event. “Committee members interviewed Africans and submitted stories about their lives to the local paper,” she said. “We wouldn’t have had the turnout we did if it weren’t for people wanting to meet the folks they had read about in the newspaper.”


One person whose story was told in the local paper was Manasseh Matengenzara, a TCEC member who served on the planning committee. He and his family came to Guymon from Zimbabwe about four years ago. “Azuma was an eye-opening learning experience for me,” Matengenzara


said. “Many people don’t realize Africa is a continent, not a single country. Africans have different languages and customs depending on the country. The more we understand each other, the better.” He said Azuma helped him realize how many Africans are living in Guymon and he enjoyed meeting many new people. “Azuma helped me understand life in America better,” he said. “We shared our traditions and learned about life here at the same time.” Many Africans left larger cities in the United States during the economic downturn in 2009 to come to the Midwest for work in meat packing plants. Seaboard Foods was the main sponsor of the 2013 event and is involved in this year’s event as well. “We have a diverse workforce at our Guymon processing plant,” said


Jennie Watkins, training manager at Seaboard Foods and TCEC member. “Sponsoring the Azuma celebration gave us an opportunity to support a number of our employees and foster positive community relations. It was a win-win for us and we’re proud to be part of Main Street’s efforts.”


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