Cultural Quarterly
Winter 2009
Volume XXII, Number 1
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Sistrunk Festival
Looks Back – and Forwar
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By Susan F. Davis

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Sistrunk Historical Festival
Sistrunk Historical Festival

We have all heard that old adage about knowing your past so that you are not doomed to repeat it.  The people behind Sistrunk Historical Festival Inc. have taken this advice one step further. Not only do they honor their past, but they also celebrate their present and embrace their future.  This seems like a tall order, but Sistrunk Historical Festival Inc. accomplishes it every year with their parade and Street Festival.  They must be doing something right - because this year marks their 30th year of celebration.

Sistrunk Historical Festival is a cultural organization that celebrates the accomplishments of people of African descent.  Each year in February, a large parade and festival are held.  Thousands of people are drawn to this event, where everything from international foods to national entertainment awaits them.  Providing social, political and educational events that increase awareness of contributions from the diverse community of the greater Fort Lauderdale area is the main goal of this organization.

Sistrunk Historical Festival
Sistrunk Historical Festival

Not only do participants travel from throughout the tri-county area to attend, but residents from all over Florida arrive to participate in all that is available at the festival.  It all starts with the parade, one of Broward County’s oldest events.  It travels down historic Sistrunk Boulevard and ends at the Street Festival, a free event attended by more than 300,000 people since it began.  Food, arts and crafts, merchandise, a health fair and live entertainment are just a few of the offerings at the festival - an event for the entire family.

The Sistrunk name is well-known in Broward County.  There is Sistrunk Boulevard, J.F. Sistrunk Bridge and the annual Sistrunk events produced by Sistrunk Historical Festival Inc.  All are named for Dr. James Franklin Sistrunk, a Broward County pioneer and a man whose ideas were well ahead of his time.  Born in 1891 in Midway, Fla., a small town near Tallahassee, Sistrunk graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., in 1919.  A true patriot with a deep and abiding love for his country, Dr. Sistrunk went on to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I.  When the war was over, he returned home, relocated to Dunnellon, Fla., and settled in to practice medicine.

Sistrunk Historical Festival
Sistrunk Historical Festival

By 1922, he had moved to Fort Lauderdale.  But here, this man - a qualified surgeon - was not allowed to perform surgical procedures in any local white hospital.  Dr. Sistrunk was appalled by this state of affairs and deeply concerned about the people of his race who desperately needed regular medical care.  Ultimately, he joined Dr. Von D. Mizell and established Fort Lauderdale’s first medical facility for blacks, Provident Hospital.  Over the next 40 years, Dr. Sistrunk made house calls throughout the Broward County area and delivered more than 5,000 babies.  It is certainly more than appropriate that the parade and festival bear his name.

On February 28, find your way to Sistrunk Boulevard, get comfortable and share the parade with other people of the community.  Follow it to its end and prepare to be immersed in a celebration of diversity and cultural richness.  Eat, shop and simply share.  Embrace this showcase of African-American and Caribbean-American lifestyles.  Once you do, it will certainly become a February event that you will never want to miss.

To learn more about the 2009 Sistrunk Historical Festival, visit www.sistrunkfestival.org
or call 954-687-3472.

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