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Key West Africana Festival to Spotlight Heritage and Wellness June 22-25

KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Visitors can discover the Africana cultural heritage of America's southernmost city during a festival and celebration Thursday through Sunday, June 22-25.

Hollywood actor Malik Yoba of the ABC drama "Designated Survivor" is the scheduled keynote speaker at the 2017 Key West Africana Festival. The festival features national speakers on black thought, wellness workshops, explorations of Key West's African and Cuban influences and island-style recreation.

"We believe Key West offers African-Americans and people of the Diaspora a bona fide jewel in cultural tourism, and the perfect locale to celebrate black thought and discuss the ideas that both shape and challenge us," said festival founder Christopher Norwood.

Activities begin Thursday evening with a reception at the Little Room Jazz Club, 821 Duval St., featuring a jazz performance by the Hal Howland Trio.

Most subsequent presentations are headquartered at the San Carlos Institute, a Cuban heritage center at 516 Duval St., and the La Concha Hotel & Spa, the host property at 430 Duval St.

Friday's opening session commemorates Juneteenth, observed in 43 states and honoring June 19, 1865, the day slavery legally ended in the United States. Speakers include author and educator Dr. Tameka Bradley Hobbs and MSNBC contributor Dr. James Peterson, who also spearheads a Saturday program on hip hop and underground culture.

Later Friday the spotlight shines on the Key West African Cemetery at Higgs Beach, believed to be the United States' only African refugee cemetery. Presenters Corey Malcom, director of archaeology at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, and Miami-based artist and activist Gene Tinnie also are to lead a cemetery tour.

Historians believe the graves hold Africans who died in 1860 after being freed by the U.S. Navy from three American-owned slave ships captured near Cuba. More than 1,400 rescued Africans were brought to Key West for care, but nearly 300 died after the forced ocean crossing.

Friday night attendees can learn about the shipwrecked Henrietta Marie at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, 200 Greene St., and view rare Henrietta Marie artifacts. The vessel sank 35 miles west of Key West in 1700 after unloading 190 enslaved Africans in Jamaica.

Saturday's keynote address by Yoba is open to the public at 7 p.m. at the San Carlos. Yoba's career credits include portraying Yul Brenner in the film "Cool Runnings," Vernon Turner on television's "Empire" and NYPD Detective J. C. Williams on "New York Undercover." He has earned three NAACP Image Awards for his acting.

Other festival events include a physical wellness workshop, optional watersports excursions and late-night gatherings with live music.

Registration is $125 per person.

Event information and registration: keywestafricanafestival.com/

Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY

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Actor Malik Yoba is to be a keynote speaker and ambassador addressing "The Role of the Black Actor in the Theatre of Public Affairs."

Actor Malik Yoba is to be a keynote speaker and ambassador addressing "The Role of the Black Actor in the Theatre of Public Affairs."

Participants gather at the Key West African Cemetery Memorial with Gene Dinizulu Tinnie guiding the ceremony.

Participants gather at the Key West African Cemetery Memorial with Gene Dinizulu Tinnie guiding the ceremony.

A display inside the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum chronicles a timeline of historical events.

A display inside the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum chronicles a timeline of historical events.