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Watts Summer Festival: ongoing effort to highlight the positive

Tommy Jacquette (25963)
Tommy Jacquette

The 47th annual Watts Summer Festival is a free, two-day event that offers residents a mixture of entertainment, conversations and information.

The event begins Aug. 3 with the Watts Village Forum at the Watts Senior Center, 1657 E. Century Blvd. The community forum consists of a discussion on mental health and violence, their causes and how they intersect, beginning at 11 a.m. with professionals such as Black psychologists and gang interventionists. This will be followed at 1:30 p.m. by a screening of the film “WattsStax” and a discussion of the impact of this historic concert.

The festival continues on Aug. 10, with a day of family fun from noon-7 p.m. at Ted Watkins Park, 1334 E. 103rd St.

Entertainment will consist of headliner the Bobby Haynes Blues Band and lineup of yet-to-be-discovered local talent.

There will also be a children’s village with a bounce house, face painter and hula hoop contest; and a vendor marketplace featuring entrepreneurs as well as social service organizations. These will include people on hand to sign residents up for programs like CalWorks and Medicaid.

As part of ongoing efforts to highlight the positive in Watts, festival organizers will also recognize young people ages 15-25 who are carrying on the work of their elders in the areas of community pride and organization, education, creative production, religion and civic responsibility and leadership.

Nominated by local organizations, the selected young people will receive the Tommy Jacquette Legacy Torch Bearer Award.

For additional information, call (213) 361-8249.

The Watts Summer Festival, considered to be a vanguard or prototype of similar festivals now held in Los Angeles and throughout the United States, is held annually on the second weekend of August. It grew from the ashes of the 1965 Watts Revolt, and was conceived in 1966 by community members Stan Sanders, Baltimore Scott, Wanda Tidwell O’Neal, Inola Henry, the late Claude McDonald, Coach Clarence Mackey, Sam Anderson, Charles Hill, Roger Brown and the late Billy Tidwell as well as the David Starr Jordan High School alumnae.

The festival pioneered many areas, including the concept and development of the vendor marketplace, incorporating a children’s area and providing stage exposure for local “yet to be discovered” talent.

In 1972, Watts Summer Festival Inc. became the first African American organization to sponsor a sold-out concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Called “Wattstax, The Living Word,” it became both a recording album and major film featuring the late Richard Pryor.

The resilience of the Watts Summer Festival is a strong testament to the dedication and drive of the organization’s third executive director Tommy “Halifu” Jacquette who served in that capacity from 1968-2009. Following Jacquette’s death, his daughter, Latrecia Jacquette McFall, stepped up in 2010 to serve as the new executive director.

Sixteen components are embedded in the festival’s programming, although not all are executed each year. They include—an art exhibit; business exhibits; car, bike and van show; children’s village; community forum; concerts; concessions; an elders village; fashion show; film festival; goodwill ambassadors scholarship pageant; parade; performing arts; social service agencies; and the sports village [formerly Watts Summer Olympics]. In recent years, a local tour company has provided a tour of Watts as well.

The principles of the Nguzo Saba are at the core of the Watts Summer Festival Corp. and event. The Nguzo Saba is a set of moral principles or standards—unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

In addition to presenting a yearly festival, the initial concept of the corporation included a long-term goal of acquiring land for the development of an African American cultural tourist attraction to provide a year-round culturally-based venue with commercial and recreational activities, including the annual Watts Summer Festival.

The mission of Watts Summer Festival Inc. is to present an annual event in the community of Watts that celebrates the cultural contributions of African American people, preserves the history and legacy of the Watts community as well as to memorialize the 34 lives lost during the 1965 Watts Revolt.