This month Juneteenth will officially be recognized as a holiday in New Jersey, marking an important step worth celebrating for black culture in our state. And making its debut in Atlantic City on the same weekend is another celebration of black culture – the Black Excellence Festival.
“We chose the date to coincide with Juneteenth because it was obviously significant to the black community,” says Nathan Smalls, creator and CEO of the Black Excellence Festival. “Especially coming on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement, we just felt it was a great opportunity to do some healing and reflecting and to celebrate at the same time,”
Running from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, June 18 and 19, the Black Excellence Festival heads to Showboat for two days of culture, comedy, shopping, live music, films, panels, workshops and more. There will also be free COVID vaccinations and health screenings offered each day from AtlantiCare.
With the popular Essence Festival in New Orleans being virtual this year, the Black Excellence Festival has become the nation’s largest in-person celebration of black culture. But it took some careful planning for it to all come together.
“For the last couple of years up in Englewood we had been producing two separate expos – one called ‘Women of Color’ and one called ‘Men of Color,’” Smalls says. “During COVID, I had a lot of time to think about the future, and I began speaking with the folks at Tower Investments about doing a festival down in Atlantic City at the Showboat. And so after some discussions, we decided to combine the ‘Women of Color’ and ‘Men of Color’ events, and the Black Excellence Festival was born.”
A super fest
The festival is particularly unique in that it includes so many different aspects of entertainment, and tickets to each event can be purchased individually.
“It’s like a bunch of small festivals all put together into one,” Smalls says.
The BE Comedy Jam will take place Friday night and will feature a stellar lineup of comics, including Big Momma Bad A$$, Zack The Comic, Will Wright and GL Douglas – “The Good Girl of Comedy.” Saturday afternoon, the Rucker Park Entertainer’s Basketball Classic will feature some of the most amazing streetball players in the world and will be one of two events to honor Greg Marius, the legendary creator of the original EBC at Rucker Park in Harlem, who passed away in 2017 following a bout with cancer. The other event in his honor will be a celebration of life party taking place Friday night.
And what would a festival be without some great music? The Black Excellence Fest has pulled out all the stops and managed to secure some serious old-school hip-hop legends, with performances from The Sugarhill Gang and Melle Mel and Scorpio from Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five. The show will take place Saturday evening at the Bourbon Room – located in the space formerly occupied by the House of Blues.
Attendees can even enjoy a few free events, including discussions and presentations from various speakers including Dr. Syleecia Thompson and Dr. Varleton McDonald, who will speak on issues facing the black community today, as well as the BE Film Festival, which will feature more than 30 films from some of the most talented up and coming African-American film makers.
For the grand finale, guests can dance till the wee hours at the All White After Party, which starts 11 p.m. Saturday and will be hosted by Rucker Park and Nike legend Future and will also feature some special guests you won’t want to miss.
“I’m just looking forward to experiencing the common fellowship of people gathering to have a good time. It’s going to be unlike any other festival, and I can’t wait,” Smalls says.
Official lineup for Black Excellence Festival
Friday, June 18
10 a.m.: BE Film Festival Screening Begins (Carousel Room)
11 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Atlanticare (Covid Vaccinations - Convention Floor)
Noon: Opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony
Noon to 9 p.m.: BE Shopping Market Place
7:30 to 10 p.m.: BE Comedy Jam (Bourbon Room)
11 p.m. to 2 a.m.: Celebration of Life After Party honoring Greg Marius (Bourbon Room)
Saturday, June 19
10 a.m. to 9 p.m.: BE Shopping Market Place
10 a.m. to 3 p.m.: BE Speaker Pavillion - various speakers - (Carousel Room)
10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: AtlantiCare (health screenings - convention floor)
3:30 to 6 p.m.: Rucker Park Entertainer’s Basketball Classic Basketball Game (Altman Park)
7:30 to 10 p.m.: BE Hip-Hop Celebration Concert With Sugarhill Gang and Melle Mel and Scorpio (Bourbon Room)
11 p.m. to 2 a.m.: All White Closing After Party (Bourbon Room)