Honoring heritage

Idlewild hosts second Heritage Festival

IDLEWILD — People from across the state, and in a few case across the nation, came to Idlewild on Saturday to celebrate the second annual Heritage Festival.

Continuous spurts of rain were mostly ignored, as those watching the on-stage performances pitched picnic tents to sit under, or carried umbrellas.

Police officers from Highland Park, near Detroit came to the festival. Officer John Riordan said coming to Idlewild is an educational experience for him - the historical significance of Idlewild.

“I think it’s a great day to be an American to see this diversity,” Riordan said.

Giovanni Rogers, of Debonair Casanova, one of the preforming groups, was excited to play at Idlewild.

“It started off a little rainy, but the sky opened up and it’s beautiful out here,” he said. “It’s awesome. The energy was great, the people are great here at Idlewild, I truly enjoyed the experience. I’m enjoying the city of Idlewild and its beauty. We are having a great time.”

The heritage festival was created by the family of Miya Williamson, one of the team of event coordinators which includes Judy Harvell and Regina McCoy.

“We created it to bring entrepreneurship and music back to Idlewild and honor those who came before us,” Williamson said. “Our grandfathers’ store sat on this property. We just want everybody to pay homage to Idlewild, bring tourism and business back to here.

“This is to help Idlewild and its residents have economic development. We have people coming from Atlanta, Ga., Pittsburgh, Pa., we have the Tuskegee Airmen here, we have someone who came from California and people from Washington, D.C. who came.”

Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson was a Tuskegee Airman. Jefferson sat beside the Black History 101 Museum owned by Khalid el-Hakim.

“This is fantastic. This is beautiful,” Jefferson said about the museum being set up at the Heritage Festival. “This is an opportunity to spread the word and show people that life keeps on going.”

The museum is a collection of 7,000 artifacts collected from all over the country, el-Hakim said.

“It dates from slavery to Black Lives Matter and it’s a collection I started about 21 years ago,” he said. “I use these objects to teach about history.”

The museum is tied to the Idlewild Heritage Festival in celebration of the heritage of African Americans that, during segregation, found refuge here, el-Hakim said.

“African Americans who had influence came to Idlewild, like W.E.B. Du Bois, which I have an artifact signed by him,” he said. “People came here for peace and quiet in this northern paradise, or ‘Black Eden,’ as they called it.”

Comedian Mike Bonner was the host and master of ceremonies for the evening.

“I think the history of this place is absolutely amazing,” he said. “I think it’s tremendous. I just love when certain shows have a history of the venue, and the history of this venue is amazing. It’s a good thing to keep alive and resurging, and it’s moving in the right direction. It’s beautiful up here.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be M.C. here where all these big name people have been.”

Bonner hopes to one day have a comedy festival in Idlewild.

Larry Lee, former player for the Detroit Lions, drove from Detroit to see Steve Harrington perform.

“I grew up with Steve Harrington, and came to see his show, but I ended up missing it,” Lee said. “He went on a lot earlier than expected.”

Fellow Detroit resident, Toni Brown came to see her brother perform in Debonair Casanova.

“I did research some of the heritage and did not know there were such deep roots here in Idlewild,” she said. “I plan to come again.”