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7 Questions: Day of African Culture

Papa Dia and Philip Sneed in senegal

Afrik Impact is an annual event organized by the African Leadership Group (ALG), a Colorado-based nonprofit serving the African immigrant population through social, educational, and economic programs.

This year’s celebration is dubbed a Day of African Culture. It takes place at the Arvada Center on Saturday, Aug. 5 and includes a free community celebration with games, music, and food, as well as ticketed events such as a fashion show curated by renowned Senegalese designer Oumou Sy and a concert with legendary Senegalese musician Baaba Maal (his only U.S. appearance this summer).

To learn the story behind this jam-packed day, we connected with Papa Dia, founder and president of the ALG. Papa is a native of Senegal who immigrated to Denver in 1998. After teaching himself to read, write, and speak English, he worked his way up to becoming a regional vice president at a local bank. In 2017, Papa left that career to focus his attention on ALG.

Below, Papa answers questions about the ALG, what will take place during the Day of African Culture, the experience of his recent trip to Senegal, and how he came to invite Baaba Maal to perform.

The Day Of African Culture at the Arvada Center is a collaboration with the African Leadership Group, which you founded. Can you tell us how the idea started and how the partnership happened?

In February of 2023 my wife and I took an eight-person delegation and traveled to Senegal to forge partnerships and plan a variety of horticultural and water development projects, as well as cultural exchanges. Members of the leadership team of the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities were included in the delegation. The delegation met with Senegal’s Minister of Culture, Prof. Aliou Sow, as well as the mayor of the city of Thiès, Babacar Diop, and other dignitaries, artists, and scientists.

The partnership between ALG and the Arvada Center started before 2020. It has strengthened during the years and particularly after the visit to Senegal. While in Senegal, Philip Sneed, President and CEO of the Arvada Center, stated he would like to bring large-scale sculptures and tapestries to the Center, as well as internationally known fashion designer Oumou Sy and her work.

Tell us about the progress and changes ALG has helped make happen to the African community around Denver.

Since ALG’s inception, we have organized multiple community events, engagements, and discussions, with programs focused on key issues such as education, career and job opportunities, business development, immigration, political and community involvement, and many other activities regularly reaching thousands of individuals in the local community.

How did you choose to invite Baaba Maal and his band to come to the United States just for this show?

Every year, during the month of August the ALG hosts a major community event dubbed Afrik Impact, ALG’s annual fundraising event. We spend the entire year planning for Afrik Impact. It consists of five major events: Youth Empowerment, Community Cultural Celebration and Concert (Day of African Culture), Educational Forum, Business Summit, and an annual Gala. In past years, guest artists were, Carlou D from Senegal, and Massamba Diop who played the talking drum in the Marvel movie “Black Panther.” At the end of Afrik Impact each year, we cast the vision for the next year’s artist, speakers, and theme, and we start planning. Philip and I started to work on the plan to bring Baaba Maal here.

While in Senegal, we met with the Minister of Culture and shared the vision and mission of why we were there, and our hope to bring the legendary Baaba Maal to Denver this year for our Afrik Impact Community Cultural Celebration and Concert, for a performance at the Arvada Center.

Related: Baaba Maal returns with ‘Freak Out’

What are some of the most memorable moments from your trip to Senegal?

The time we spent at the Slave House on Goree Island, where we learned a lot about the slave trade. The time we spent at the religious town Touba, where we learned spiritual leadership based on the values of sharing, caring, and acceptance. Moments spent at a village where people, to our eyes, looked poor but we could see the happiness on their faces. We also spent time with local artists and designers and were amazed by their talent. Finally, the time we spent at my family home, where Philip and the delegation got to meet my mom and my entire family. We shared a meal together.

Can you describe the event in more detail? What will be happening?

The Day of African Culture at the Arvada Center will be filled with fun and entertainment! THe event schedule includes the free community celebration titled Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges, featuring music, food, drinks, and games; a VIP reception; a fashion show curated by Oumou Sy; and at 7:30pm, a concert with Baaba Maal In the Arvada Center’s beautiful outdoor amphitheater, with opener Fata El Presidente.

Oumou Sy fashion senegal
Oumou Sy

Having internally known Senegalese clothing designer Oumou Sy curate the fashion show adds a bit of glamour to the day.

Yes, we certainly believe that is the case, and we are excited to have her coming to Colorado!

What do you believe this event will mean to Africans and non-Africans?

This event has the potential to be life-changing for many people! One of ALG’s initiatives is “Breaking Barriers,” and the committee has launched a Breaking Barriers Communities Activities project. With this project, we identified members of several communities: Jewish, Native Indian, African American, Hispanic, European, Asian, and African Immigrant to work together on a Unity Poem project to bring all people together. The communities have come together to work on the poem with the help of poets/artists. This Unity Poem is being unveiled during the Day of African Culture and performed again during our 8th Annual Gala, ALG’s annual celebration and fundraising event.

Fittingly, the theme of this year’s Afrik Impact is “Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges.” We believe welcoming other cultures to the Arvada Center is an important stepping-stone to introduce the people here to the wonderful work from Senegal.

The Day of African Culture takes place Saturday, Aug. 5 at the Arvada Center in Arvada, Colo. The free community celebration begins at 3pm, and Baaba Maal performs at 7:30pm. For more information including ticket prices and show details, visit the ALG website.

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