Ethnic Expo international festival returns to full format

For people such as west African native Rita Kotor, plenty of cultural sharing comes through food, such as her fried plantains specialty.

For people such as band Huckleberry Funk, cultural sharing comes through soul music.

They represent just two elements of the host African American Community and its theme “Passport to Freedom” for the annual Ethnic Expo international festival unfolding from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday at First and Washington streets in downtown Columbus.

The free gathering was launched by the late city first lady Barbara Stewart in 1984 to help international residents feel more at home in Bartholomew County and to highlight cultural diversity, and has drawn thousands.

This year marks its first full celebration since 2019 — before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the sometimes-crowded gathering. Including food booths, bazaar booths and more, more than 30 nations are represented, organizers said.

“The best thing about all this focus (on African Americans) is that it is definitely a collective effort,” said Bishop Johnnie Edwards. “But this also allows all of us to come together as a whole (wider) community.”

Edwards is president of the Columbus/Bartholomew County Chapter of the NAACP and a member of the local African American Pastors Alliance. Those are just two of five organizations that have joined the city Expo planners to highlight their specific African American culture. Other organizations are the African American Fund of Bartholomew County, Cummins Black Network and the Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization.

“We’re hoping that everyone is very excited that we’re back to full force,” said Jody Coffman, Community Development communications and events coordinator for the city of Columbus that presents Expo.

The celebration will feature 26 food booths made up of a mix of area nonprofits raising money for a variety of projects to local restaurants. The international bazaar, featuring everything from jewelry to artwork to clothes, will include 14 booths. Three entertainment stages are booked with everything from music acts to dance troupes and more.

The festival’s heaviest attendance normally occurs during suppertime Friday evening. The weather forecast calls for chilly highs of only 61 both Friday and Saturday, but sunny skies.

“It should be perfect fall festival weather,” Coffman said.

Kotor figures some of her African clothing from her Blessing International Market could warm people. Same goes for her cooking, including items ranging from fried yams to fufu.

“It’s like mashed potatoes — only thicker,” she said.

Inside in GO!

Popular electric violinist to be featured at Ethnic Expo, Page D1.

Expo schedule

City Hall Stage

Friday:

4:30 – 6 p.m.: Salaam Duo

6:15 – 7:15 p.m.: Highland Reign

7:30 – 9:30 p.m.: The Indy Annies

Saturday:

11 a.m. – Noon: Dancers Studio Inc.

Noon – 12:45 p.m.: Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums

1:30 – 2:30 p.m.: Il Troubadore

2:30 – 3:30 p.m.: Cummins Diversity Choir

4: – 4:45 p.m.: Southern Indiana Taiko Performance

5 – 5:30 p.m.: Southern Indiana Taiko Workshop

6 – 7:30 p.m.: Swing ’39

8 – 10 p.m.: The Tiptonians

Host Stage

Friday:

4:30 – 6 p.m.: DJ

6 – 8 p.m.: Live Painter Deonna Craig

7:15 – 8:30 p.m.: Huckleberry Funk

8:30 – 10 p.m.: DJ

Saturday:

Noon – 1:30 p.m.: DJ

1:30 – 2 p.m.: Pastor Frank Griffin & local Columbus Gospel Choir

2 – 3 p.m.: Fresh Start Dancers

3 – 6 p.m.: DJ

6 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.: Passport to Freedom

7:15 – 10 p.m. : DJ

Biergarten Stage

Friday & Saturday:

6:30 – 8:30 p.m.: Electric violinist Colin G. Matthews