Yaw Asamoah of Dublin was born in the West African nation of Ghana, but has lived in central Ohio for 20 years.
He retained a trace of accent as he spoke on Saturday about the Ankara cotton clothes he was selling at the Columbus African Festival in Franklin Park on Saturday. It also exhibited glass jewelry, traditional hourglass-shaped shoes and drums, as well as bags and baskets woven from tropical elephant grass.
Asamoah has seen the West African community grow in the Columbus area over the past few years.
“A lot of people have left New York,” he said. “When Ohio started to explode, people headed here.”
A number of them probably attended the festival on Saturday. The event aims to encourage African arts in the Columbus community and to expose African culture to residents of Greater Columbus.
Reginald Rowland is a member of the festival board. Many know that Columbus is home to the second largest Somali community in the United States, behind Minneapolis-St. Paul district.
Rowland said the city is also becoming home to people from other African countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
Astrid Coffi, originally from Senegal and now a resident of Grove City, said most of the items she sells are handmade, including clothing, jewelry and accessories. She makes some items, while others are made by a group she knows in Senegal. On Saturdays, she held a brown soapstone plate with engravings that she had made herself.
She hopes the festival will help raise awareness of the African community here.
“The African community is not there enough,” Coffi said.
The festival in the spotlight the flags of 52 African nations, Rowland said, and featured poetry, music, dance, arts and crafts. Several food trucks were also on hand to serve hungry customers.
One of these food trucks, Fork of Nigeria, is owned by the chairman of the festival board, Bartholomew Shepkong.
He said the festival has been moved to the northeast side of Columbus, where the first festival was held at Innis Park in 2019, in Franklin Park, as it is located more centrally. Organizers have not held the festival in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Shepkong, professor of cultural diversity and sociology at Central Ohio Technical College in Newark,
The first festival drew around 1,000 visitors, and Shepkong hoped to do better in 2021.
“I hope people see and experience African culture,” said Shepkong, a Bexley resident who came from Chicago to the Columbus area in 2014.
One of the reasons he came here was because his wife’s family, Gachomo Mapis, another festival board member, lived here. But he also said the cost of living was cheaper in Columbus. And he said it’s increasingly diverse, with West Africans hailing from other parts of the United States.
“For me, it’s very welcoming,” Shepkong said.
Fork of Africa serves stews with ingredients such as okra, Nigerian jollof rice, fufu (a paste), and chicken, beef, and goat.
Gahanna’s Yannick Tuwamo, who arrived in Columbus earlier this year from North Carolina, lined up in front of the truck. His parents are Congolese and he had already bought a traditional African black and brown outfit that he carried in a bag in the back of his child’s stroller.
“I really like a festival around Africa,” he said.
Asamoah said he expects festival-goers to appreciate what comes out of Africa, a continent increasingly familiar to Americans.
“The world has become a very small global village,” he said. “Technology made it that way”