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Durham officials pledge to do better after complaints about explicit Bimbe festival performance

May 20, 2019

Durham officials say they are working to put stronger measures in place to ensure that explicit lyrics and performances aren’t on stage during family-friendly events like this past Saturday’s Bimbe Cultural Arts Festival.

Monday’s statement came two days after the 50th annual Bimbe festival at Rock Quarry Park wrapped up.

The annual festival got its start in 1969 when a group of African-American students from Duke University, North Carolina College at Durham, now North Carolina Central University and other community groups got together to plan a cultural festival, according to the city. The event celebrates African culture and art and includes live music, arts and crafts, ethnic food and a family fun zone with face painting, storytelling and more. Now organized by the Durham Parks and Recreation Department, the 2019 event drew more than 15,000 people this year.

But plenty of parents and community members, who flocked to the event which was billed as family friendly, raised concerns after the performance of New Orleans-based rapper Juvenile.

One local father, who emailed Go Ask Mom, said he also was disappointed by performances during the Bimbe Block Party last week.

“As a single father of two young daughters, I was appalled by what I heard at both events,” he wrote in the email. “The use of the racial slur ... was constant and music filled with sexual overtones, violence and drug use were played repeatedly. The dances that accompanied these songs were equally as appalling, with the dance often reflecting the sexual lyrics. Teens on stage guided toddlers and other pre-teens in this sexualized dance to a song filled with adult lyrics. After 3 years attending Bimbe, the education that both my biracial and Caucasian daughters once received, simply is no longer there.”

Durham activist and minister Paul Scott addressed Juvenile’s performance several times on his Facebook page.

“It should not have been done,” he said in one Facebook video. “He should not have gone around our little brothers and sisters and elders ... using that type of language.”

And Mark-Anthony Middleton, a Durham City Council member, wrote in a letter to Rhonda Parker, Durham’s parks and recreation director, that “a myriad of constituents” had contacted him about Juvenile’s “vulgarity and sexually explicit language while on stage.”

“Let me be clear that I am a lifelong fan of hip hop and an ardent supporter of the 1st amendment,” Middleton wrote. “I in no way advocate or support censorship. This, however, is about what we place the city’s imprimatur on moving forward. Bimbe is billed as a family friendly cultural festival that is free and open to the public. This places a higher burden on us to indeed ensure that what emanates from the main stage is reconcilable with that moniker. The fact that many parents felt compelled to collect their children and leave mid-performance should give us pause and strengthen our resolve to practice greater scrutiny for future festivals.”

In response, the city’s parks department said it had secured an agreement with Juvenile to ensure his performance remained family friendly, but now pledges to make changes to bolster its efforts so that performances are appropriate for all ages at events like Bimbe.

“We put a lot of work into the festival and were disappointed in the language used by one of the artists because of our goal and mission as well as the respect we have for our community,” says the parks department’s response. “As always, prior to securing an artist we communicate the nature of the event along with the demographic that will be in attendance. Unfortunately, one of the artists did not adhere to the agreement that was made with him prior to the event.

“We owe our sponsors, city administrators, elected officials and you, the community an apology,” it reads.

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