By Ray Richardson
POMONA — The last time the Los Angeles County Fair was open in 2019, African-Americans represented only 6% of the total attendance for the 24-day festival.
That percentage is expected to rise dramatically for the 2022 fair with the help of this weekend’s Black Heritage Celebration.
“It’ll be fun to see a lot of people at the fair who look like us,” said Kyle Webb, CEO of Cooperative Economic Empowerment Movement (CEEM), a local partner organization with the L.A. County Fair for cultural events. “We cater to African-Americans. A lot of our people are planning their trip to the fair around our weekend.”
The Black Heritage Celebration runs May 13-15, part of a series of cultural weekends promoted by the fair, which ends May 30.
Fair organizers hosted a Latin American Celebration May 6-8 and have scheduled theme weekends for the Asian-American Pacific Islander and Pride communities as well.
There is added anticipation for the Black Heritage Celebration, which is premiering a Black Grad Night as part of an expanded list of activities. More than 500 African-American high school graduates will be honored May 13 at the CEEM stage area.
Keynasia Buffong, founder of National Black Grad, a Los Angeles area nonprofit, said at least 27 students will each receive $1,000 scholarships. The students also will be treated to free admission to the fair and free tickets for rides.
“This is so exciting for our students to be a part of something like this,” said Buffong, a transfer and career counselor at San Bernardino College. “We haven’t been able to celebrate like we usually do the past two years.”
In addition to Black Grad Night, CEEM is hosting a Greek Night May 14, a showcase of Los Angeles area Black fraternities and sororities. Music performances, exhibits and spoken word highlight the rest of the Black Heritage Celebration weekend.
Fair management expressed confidence that the expanded lineup of activities for the Black Heritage Celebration will lead to an attendance boost among African Americans.
“We really appreciate the effort CEEM has put forth to help us connect more with the African-American community,” said Renee Hernandez, communications director for Fairplex and the L.A. County Fair. “CEEM has been great partners with us. We know we still have a lot of work to do.”
CEEM also assisted the fair in providing vendor opportunities this weekend for 16 Black businesses, the largest number of Black vendors at the fair since CEEM began its partnership in 2016. The businesses include Black-owned restaurants, artwork displays and authors.
“There was a time when African Americans weren’t represented too well at the fair,” Webb said. “It’s so important that we’ve been able to give some of our black vendors an opportunity they normally might not have. Improving the vendor situation has helped us become a valued partner with the fair.”
All 16 vendors will be in the CEEM Village. Webb said the easiest way to find the CEEM area is to enter through Gate 17 off Fairplex Avenue, proceed through “Yellow Gate” and veer right.
Diversity initiatives at the fair became more of a priority under former Fair CEO Miguel Santana, who left the organization in 2020. Before Santana’s departure, he built a relationship with Webb and CEEM. Santana’s successor, Walter Marquez, has pledged to maintain the commitment that Santana started.
“Up until a couple of years ago, we didn’t have cultural weekends,” Hernandez said. “L.A. County and the Inland Empire is very diverse. We wanted to make sure our programming started to reflect that.”
The L.A. County Fair is open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and will be open on Memorial Day. For information, tickets and concert schedules, go to lacountyfair.com.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.