24 years ago, he brought Juneteenth to Charlotte. Today, he wants to see unity.

Pape Ndiaye next to an African mask at House of Africa. YIWEN LU

When Pape Ndiaye first arrived in Charlotte in 1997, the Juneteenth celebration was nowhere to be found in the city. So he started the Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas on Thomas Avenue – which he calls the birthplace of all Juneteenth celebrations in the Carolinas.

Ndiaye runs the House of Africa gallery in Plaza Midwood, where he held the festival for the first seven years and returned a few years ago after moving it to Independence Park. For over two decades, the festival has brought artists, musicians, and vendors from around the world to Charlotte. To Ndiaye, that speaks to the significance of Juneteenth: a time for the community to share with each other in the spirit of freedom, unity and togetherness.

“My grandmother used to say that when you travel, you need to get the direction,” Ndiaye said. “Culture and heritage are the only directions that can help you move forward.”


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Ndiaye, a native of Senegal, arrived in the U.S. not knowing Juneteenth’s history. As he traveled around, he saw it being celebrated in a lot of different places — but not Charlotte. That’s when he started to host the festival with the help of friends, including Pride Magazine publisher Dee Dixon, and the late Marilyn Turner, the first chairperson of the festival who served from 1997 to 2006.

This year, the festival will be a four-day celebration, featuring events such as a peaceful march, fashion show, Juneteenth prayer and youth camp. As Ndiaye was busy preparing for the festival in the gallery on Friday, 62-year-old Dwayne Gross stopped by. He moved to Charlotte from New York when Ndiaye started the festival and has been actively involved in it since. To Gross, Ndiaye introduced him to a new world of his own descent.

“Africans in America had the whole slavery thing and all that, but there wasn’t a lot of cultural aspect going on,” he said. “Pape [Ndiaye] was giving you a different perspective on our culture. He would tell stories, the history of the masks, and people were really attracted to them.”

Gross grew up during the Malcolm X and Black Panther era. “We didn’t know about Africa and where we came from, and that just wasn’t our original country.”

But the longing to learn about his ancestors has always intrigued him. In kindergarten, Gross said, James Baldwin once came to speak at his class. “I remember him telling us that you are more than what they tell you. You come from kings and queens, and you come from kingdoms — I never forgot that.”

Ndiaye – and the Juneteenth Festival – for many offered the closest route for the Charlotte community to form a connection with Africa. Khadim Soung, a fashion designer who lives in Dakar, Senegal, flew to Charlotte this summer to help Ndiaye with the fashion ceremony during the festival. In a venue next to House of Africa, artistically designed Senegalese Boubous, a type of traditional light garment clothing in Senegal, were displayed over the chairs and desks.

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SOURCE: Charlotte Observer – YIWEN LU

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