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Overcast 60° Good Afternoon

African-American Heritage Day fest draws throngs in Valhalla

Demiyon Hawkins, 5, of North Carolina, who is

Demiyon Hawkins, 5, of North Carolina, who is visiting her aunt for the summer, gets her face painted by Keenan Higgins of Mount Vernon's Twinkie the Clown & Pals at the African-American Heritage Day Celebration at Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla. (June 24, 2012) Photo Credit: Meghan E. Murphy

Residents from the Hudson Valley and beyond sought out Jamaican jerk chicken, handmade earrings and step dancing Sunday at the 28th annual African-American Heritage Day celebration.

The parking lot at the Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla was jammed with cars by 3 p.m. Culture seekers entered the festival through a display of nearly life-size cutouts of giraffes, lions and camels made by the Garden in the Woods Drama Ministry in White Plains.

Tamara Hawkins came to the festival from the Bronx to enjoy the music -- everything from the Brooklyn-based heavy metal youth band Tears of Blood to a Stevie Wonder cover by MusicWAM.

Vendors sold shea butter imported from Africa, handmade earrings and "I am Trayvon Martin" T-shirts at the event, whose theme was "purpose," the fifth principal of Kwanzaa.

"We organize this every year to get people to see our culture of the African-American community: the foods, arts, crafts and organizations," said Teddy Lee, committee member of the African-American Heritage Day Celebration.

Kim Martin of Mount Vernon swung her arms in the air and stepped to the dance calls of DJ Danny, who taught the crowd new moves with the help of the A.A.C. Line Dance Club of Mount Vernon.

"It's exciting to be out here," said Martin, who comes every year.

The Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority also entertained the crowd with step-dancing routines, including a salute to Westchester County rap legend Heavy D.

Stephanie Brinkley, of Mount Vernon, said that her sorority made Westchester County feel like home when she moved from Miami to study law at Pace University.

"I had an instant network of like-minded professional people," she said as she manned the booth to spread the word about her sorority's community service work.

Others, like Tameka Johnson of Mount Vernon, came for the food. Vendors loaded her plate with yams, cabbage, macaroni and cheese and tilapia from Neighborhood Bakery in Jamaica, Queens. Johnson took a cup of sweet tea and lemonade and headed back to the festival.

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