In the late 1980’s, Dajahn A. Blevins founded San Diego Urban Warriors, Inc. to try and use the arts for prevention and intervention of the self-destruction some infected youth and community members were embracing. In 1988, a Diversion program called the Kujichagulia (Swahili for ‘Self-Determination’) was launched, with Dajahn serving as Artistic Director and liaison between community-based resources and local service organizations including San Diego Urban League, South Eastern Community Theater, Community Actors Theater and San Diego Urban Warriors. At the end of the year, an event was held to celebrate the positive life style changes of the participating students. It was out of this celebration that Kuumba Festival began.
Kuumba Fest, the annual Festivals of Creativity, began in 1989, and until 1992 was a type of “cast party” celebration for students developing a sense of self-determination based on the principle of Kujichagulia. Invited participants, community partners, family members, and the community in general were invited to celebrate the success of these youth. The celebrations were held at the Community Actors Theater, MLK Park Recreation center, Encanto B&G Club and Jackie Robinson YMCA.
In 1993 Kuumba Fest and its founders, Dajahn A. Blevins and Pamela Riley Smith, were invited by San Diego Repertory Theatre’s African American Advisory Council Member Phyllis Toliver to the Lyceum Theater. The festival then expanded from a 2- hour community-based celebration of positive lifestyle changes to a full day of celebrating African American youth success and black lifestyle, heritage, art and culture. Eventually, it grew into a 4-day celebratory event.
Each year a new festival theme is selected and a challenge given towards identifying and creatively replacing self-defeating behaviors. Throughout the year, services are provided for youth and families in the community. March to November follow the theme of the next year’s Kuumba Fest. The goal is to eventually also add an empowerment conference to the festival in order to continue to expand the use of the arts as creative support towards prevention and intervention.
Through the years, Kuumba Festival has been graced by incredible guests including lecturers Assa Hillard and Tony Browder, Hip Hop stars like KRS1 and Curtis Blow, comedians including Tommy Davidson and DL Hugely, Actresses Ruby D, Loretta Devin and Lawrence Fishburn. In addition, many participants who had their first professional stage experience at Kuumba Fest have gone on to be professional models and artists.
Kuumba Fest continues to be held at The Lyceum Theatre in February each year, and San Diego Repertory Theatre is thrilled to host and provide production and promotional support for the festival.
Kuumba, which is Swahili for ‘creativity’, brings together community leaders, local performers and celebrities for an annual audience averaging 5,000 people. From gospel to hip-hop and theater to dance, San Diego’s Kuumba Fest presents a wide showcase of arts that celebrate Black American culture in all its variety.