Calendar of African-American Festivals & Events in Florida
By Lauren Tjaden
You can experience and celebrate African American culture and contributions – through music, film, presentations, parades and more—all over Florida. Here are some of the annual African-American festivals and events in Florida.
MLK Dream Big Parade
In January, Americans pause to honor the birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. But ain’t no party like a St. Pete party; the city’s MLK Day parade is the nation’s longest-running parade honoring Dr. King, with bands, floats, drum lines and more to mark the national holiday. Line up early to get a good spot.
Flight to Freedom
Travel back in time to Fort Mose (pronounced mo-ZAY), America’s first legally sanctioned community of free blacks. Sanctioned in 1738—well before the Emancipation Proclamation or Florida’s adoption into the United States—the fort was St. Augustine’s northern defense against the invading British. Visit Fort Mose Historic State Park on select dates in January to witness Flight to Freedom, a family-friendly reenactment that tells the story of the dangerous 300-mile journey enslaved Africans made for the chance at liberty.
Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival
This 10-day celebration of black art, music, food and culture includes events throughout the city. Achieve your personal growth goals when you attend seminars on leadership, finances, education and more. Once your mind has had a workout, get moving at the 5k run/walk at Tampa’s riverfront Curtis Hixon Park. Finally, after you’ve worked hard, it’s time to play hard. Put on your flyest outfit and return to the park to get turnt up at the TBBHF Music Festival, featuring two days of outdoor concerts.
Before Oprah, Prince and Beyoncé, there was Zora. The folklorist and author, best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, was black America’s original no-last-name-necessary icon. Zora Neale Hurston was born in 1891 in Alabama, but she spent her formative years in Eatonville, the first incorporated all-black city in the United States. Every year, the Central Florida town celebrates its most famous daughter during the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities, a multi-day event featuring an outdoor arts festival, theatrical productions, museum exhibitions, public lectures and more.
Broward County's rich multi-cultural flavor and strong traditions are on display in this family-friendly parade. The newly upgraded Sistrunk Boulevard corridor will be brimming with school marching bands, high school ROTC, and drill teams as well as local business owners and politicians atop decorated floats. It’s anything but a snooze: the parade is dedicated to energizing and uniting participants, onlookers, and supporters. The route begins at Lincoln Park, located on Northwest Nineteenth Avenue, and ends on Northwest Ninth Avenue. Don’t rush home; the Urban Music Festival begins immediately after the parade.
Urban Music Festival
A festival by any other name smells as sweet! Formerly known as the Sistrunk Historical Street Festival, the Urban Music Festival is an event you won’t want to miss. This highly acclaimed event celebrates the accomplishments of people of African descent, unifying the people with an evening of free, star-studded entertainment and community-based presentations. The African-American Festival is centered between Northwest Ninth Avenue and Northwest Twelfth Avenue on Sistrunk Boulevard.
Miami International Film Festival
Big names, bright lights, and brilliant new talent: this festival features them all. The festival strives to “bridge cultural understanding and encourage artistic development by provoking thought through film,” and it delivers in spades. Its unique programming has introduced a powerhouse of renowned filmmakers. The stars that have graced its red carpet are powerhouses too; Gregory Peck, Sofia Loren, Kate Hudson, Helen Hunt, and Gloria Estefan are but a few of the instantly recognizable names. The festival begins the first Friday in March and runs for 10 days.
Jazz in the Gardens
The top names in jazz, R&B, soul, hip-hop, Gospel and other genres gather in South Florida for this outdoor music festival. Past performers include Smokey Robinson, Trombone Shorty, Chaka Khan, Janelle Monáe, Erykah Badu, Charlie Wilson, Fred Hammond and so more.
JazzFest, held annually for over 30 years in historic Seville Square in downtown Pensacola, offers two-days of free, live music, as well as food, wine and beer, soft drinks, arts and crafts and jazz merchandise.
Springing the Blues Festival
The Blues were born in the Deep South around the end of the 19th century. This melancholic music of African American folk origin pours out passion, sorrow and joy. Springing the Blues, a free festival held on the shores of Jacksonville Beach for more than 25 years, celebrates this musical genre with its laid-back, inclusive vibe. It’s family friendly, and features three days of performances by national, regional and local blues artists, drawing more than 150,000 fans.
Seabreeze Jazz Festival
Panama City Beach
Fabulous sugar-sand beaches, top smooth jazz artists, and good times under the sun combine to make Seabreeze Jazz Festival a must-do event. Named a "Top 10 Jazz Festival in the USA" by JazzIZ Magazine and recently nominated as "Best Jazz Festival" at the Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards, the event draws over 20,000 fans with four days of music and fun.
Jacksonville Jazz Festival
It’s no mystery why this Jazz Festival is one of the largest in the country. A tradition for over 30 years, the talent is all-star, with a legacy of jazz legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Branford Marsalis, Buddy Guy, Harry Connick, Jr., Mavis Staples and many more. It offers three stages of live entertainment, local food, drinks and shopping throughout 15 blocks of downtown Jacksonville. And just when you think it can’t get any better, it does: The Festival is free.
The Tampa Bay Blues Festival
St. Petersburg tampabaybluesfest.com
Every year since 1995, Vinoy Park, snuggled against the shores of Tampa Bay, has hosted some of the biggest names in Blues, including Buddy Guy, George Thorogood, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Touted as one of the world’s finest blues music events, this festival boasts three days of music, a kick-off party and after parties, as well as food, beer, wine, mixed drinks, vendors, and arts and crafts.
Tampa Caribbean Carnival
Steeped in tradition, this colorful event showcases the vibrant Caribbean-American cultures. It includes a J’ouvert morning experience (J’ouvert means day break or morning, and marks the start of the Carnival) as well as exhibits, crafts, top-name entertainment, vendors, a street parade, a Steelpan Jamboree, carnival music, and high-stepping masquerade bands.
5th Avenue Arts Festival
The culture of African-Americans in Gainesville runs deep and rich, and this festival celebrates it in high form, with three days of art, entertainment and music. The African-American festival kicks off on Friday with highly renowned artists visiting public schools to demonstrate their craft. The second day marks the start of public festivities that boast a gospel program, dancers, local bands, and singers that include national headliners, as well as historical and Black History traveling exhibits. The third day offers a relaxed Sunday afternoon of jazz and reggae from local and national bands.
Urban Beach Week
This annual mega-party offers five days of concerts, parties and unstructured revelry in Miami Beach around Memorial Day weekend.
American Black Film Festival
Whether you’re a movie buff, budding actor or aspiring filmmaker, you’ll find inspiration and industry connections at the nation’s largest gathering of black film and TV enthusiasts. Indie filmmakers, Hollywood A-listers and fans gather for this annual African-American event that includes screenings, red carpets and more. You’ll also learn the stories behind the stories when you sit in on panel discussions, master classes and table reads. Previous attendees have included Spike Lee, Will Packer, Phylicia Rashad, Sanaa Lathan and others.
Brightstar Credit Union / Sistrunk Gala & Fundraiser
A fundraiser dinner, entertainment, and dancing combine to make this event a highly anticipated party-with-a-purpose. Attendees don costumes for the fun-filled, theme based African-American event, which supports students of Broward County, raises funds for Sistrunk Scholarships, and recognizes community leaders who make a positive difference.
Florida African Dance Festival
Traditional African dance provides an explosion of color, rhythm, movement and energy, whether marking a coming of age, as part of spiritual worship, or expressing the life of the community. The Florida African Dance Festival celebrates that grand legacy with a three-day conference. It offers internationally renowned artists in dance and drum workshops, a performance concert, plus special dance workshops for children, vendors and a hair fashion extravaganza.
Tom Joyner Family Reunion
For those of us who listen to Tom on our morning commute, the radio personality already feels like family. Spend Labor Day weekend with Tom and friends at this event that’s become a tradition for thousands of African-American families. Enjoy concerts, seminars, celebrity meet-and-greets, comedy performances and family-friendly activities. There’s also a teen party and supervised kids’ night out to ensure you get the adult R&R you deserve.
Daytona Beach (in 2016)
The annual Historically Black College Football game showcases a team from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference, a tradition that began in 2005. But the celebration reaches far beyond the game. It includes the Welcome Reception, where sports industry professionals offer insights, as well as the Band Showcase, tailgate party and pep rally. You won’t want to miss the Halftime Battle of the Bands, a fiercely contended rivalry, or the Legends Award, established in 2009, that honors individuals whose achievements have impacted HBCUs. To say it’s a big deal is an understatement: The game is televised nationally on ESPN and is owned by ESPN Events.
This celebration of Caribbean culture boasts a lively street parade complete with Caribbean costumes and music, an elaborate food festival that lets you experience the flavors and aromas of Caribbean food, Caribbean craft displays, and a stage show featuring cultural performances.
Daytona Beach Blues Festival
It’s all about the blues when this three-day festival dances into historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona Beach. Held the weekend before Columbus Day, the festival features nationally known and up-and-coming blues artists, luring fans from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. There’s an added bonus: The festival is entirely run by unpaid volunteers and all proceeds benefit local women’s and children’s health services.
Black Expo South
Encompassing a vast array of experiences and opportunities, the Expo offers a spa, health and wellness seminars, business opportunities and employment help, best-selling authors and political analysts, as well as celebrity guests like YAZZ (aka Hakeem) from Empire and actress Angela Robinson.
Miami Broward One Carnival
Broward and Miami-Dade County
If you want an experience you’ll never forget, this legendary carnival will do the trick. You’ll see over 18,000 masqueraders trailing the Music Truck like the Pied Piper in the Parade of the Bands, wearing a kaleidoscope of beads and feathers, and enormous King and Queen costumes, some more than 15 feet wide and 20 feet tall. You’ll hear the tender melodies of the steelpan, and a powerhouse line up of acts in concert, like Machel Montano, David Rudder, Super Blue, Stalin, and more. And you’ll taste the islands, too, with jerk, curry, or stew. Arts and crafts, a business expo, the J’ouvert, and a Junior Carnival round out the fun.
Once a year, Florida’s biggest HBCUs go head to head—literally. When the Florida A&M Rattlers face off against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, it’s the biggest black college football game in the nation. The good-natured rivalry began in 1978 and has long outgrown the two teams’ home stadiums, settling on a permanent location at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium. But the coming together is about much more than touchdowns. It’s a chance for alums to reconnect and fans to enjoy the camaraderie, pageantry and show-stopping marching bands that accompany an athletic event steeped in black culture.
This three-day, African-inspired food and music festival explores and celebrates the ingenuity, economic and social aspects of the world’s fastest growing region – Africa. It features world-class chefs, musical acts, and talks with influencers and innovators from the African diaspora.
Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival
This festival is all about hot music, spicy food, and cool vibes. Foodies will adore the fiery jerk delicacies and Caribbean cuisine, tastings and wine pairings, as well as cooking demonstrations by renowned chefs. Three stages with a variety of traditional and contemporary performances by popular local and international performers promise to keep you entertained.
Florida Blue Florida Classic
The biggest Black college football game in the country, the Florida Classic is the annual showdown between the Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman University and the Rattlers of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. Held at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, over 1,500,000 fans have attended since the first game in 1978—and you shouldn’t miss it either. The halftime show is as legendary as the game, with marching bands from both universities competing.
Art of Black Miami
Presented during Miami Art Week, Art of Black Miami highlights art and culture through various satellite art exhibits and events across Miami's cultural neighborhoods, including Overtown, Little Haiti, and Opa Locka. Soul Basel has taken over the Historic Overtown community to mark its contributions to African-American art. Art of Black is supported by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitor's Bureau; Soul Basel is presented by the Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency.
There’s plenty of buzz about Art Basel, the annual fine art fair that draws artists and collectors from around the globe to Miami Beach every year. But a lesser-known facet of the African-American event is Soul Basel, a weeklong showcase that spotlights the work of established and under-the-radar artists in the African Diaspora. Exhibitions, pop-up galleries and special events take place throughout Miami’s historically black Overtown neighborhood.
Indie Noir Market
Florida loves a good art market, from Jacksonville’s Riverside Arts Market to St. Petersburg’s ginormous Saturday Morning Market. Now, imagine attending a market full of products that cater specifically to African-American consumers, made by black artists and entrepreneurs. Discover one-of-a-kind paintings, clothing, jewelry, bath products and more in an environment that welcomes shoppers of every background. Live music, food vendors and children’s activities round out this laid-back cultural event held periodically at the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association building.
Gospel Brunch in Orlando
The phrase “soul food” takes on even more meaning during this Sunday celebration at the House of Blues Orlando. Each week at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., Central Florida’s best talent performs traditional and contemporary Gospel songs as the audience enjoys a buffet of breakfast items, carving stations, desserts and more. Music with a side of chicken and waffles? Sounds divine.