The Martin Luther King Jr., holiday officially kicks off Jan. 16 when the 14th annual Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival begins its 10-day run here.
The family-friendly celebration — which traditionally begins the weekend before and concludes the weekend after Martin Luther King Jr. Day — includes a host of musical acts, cultural events, workshops, a gala and luncheon, health and wellness information, food and craft vendors and more.
The annual festival aims to entertain, enlighten and educate participants on the many contributions of African Americans in history, culture, heritage, and the arts.
“(This festival) celebrates the dream of Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Ruby Jackson, a festival chairwoman. “His commitment to equality and service and at the same time highlights the contributions of African Americans throughout the years.”
The event also gives a boost to the area’s economy, attracting more than 60,000 participants during its 10-day run, Jackson said.
Some of this year’s highlights include:
-The festival is offering 30 percent off tickets to Thursday’s performance of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” at the Straz Center. The Tony Award-winning musical is based on the novel by DuBose Heyward with music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Heyward.
-On Jan 17, the Black Heritage Gala officially will mark the beginning of the festival with an “Evening of Elegance” that includes entertainment, dinner and dancing at the A La Carte Pavillion.
-Saturday morning, Jan. 18, put on your walking shoes and head to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park for a free 5K walk in memory of Felecia Ann Wintons, a festival founder who died in 2009 of breast cancer. A variety of companies will be on site offering health and wellness information.
- In the evening, the Music Festival will take over Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park with the soulful sounds of R&B pioneers the Ohio Players, this year’s musical headliners. The music continues on “Jazz Sunday” with performances from “Pieces of a Dream” and Nick Colionne. Both music events will have arts, crafts, food and clothing vendors and children’s activities.
-On Monday, Jan. 20, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the 29th annual National MLK Drum Major for Justice parade hits the streets of St. Petersburg, Tampa hosts the 25th annual MLK Day Parade, and the Heritage Golf Classic tees off at Historic Rogers Park Golf Course.
-A leadership luncheon Jan. 22 at the University Area Community Center will feature as keynote speaker the Rev. Dr. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
- National recording artist Jonathan McReynolds will take the stage during Gospel Night Jan. 24, at St. John Cathedral.
The Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival began as a three day event in January 2001 to coincide with Super Bowl XXXV. The following year, the festival was moved to the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
For a complete list of events, locations and ticket prices, visit www.tampablackheritage.org or call William Sanders at (888) 224-1733 or (813) 325-2539.