Community laments losing health fair at KwanzaaFest

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by MARCUS MOORE and STEVE STOLER

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WFAA

Posted on October 22, 2013 at 1:24 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 22 at 5:25 PM

DALLAS –– Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price says someone has come forward with money to pay for KwanzaaFest 2013, but he won't accept it.

"It's not about just the money," Price said.  "It's about the volunteers. It's about the logistics and I'm just not going to do it and try to do it in six weeks."  

He made the comments Tuesday morning after revealing that a donor offered $40,000 to fill a budget gap for the event. This would mark the event’s 23rd year. Price said it generally takes six months to organize KwanzaaFest, which includes a health fair. The festival, which usually brings about 50,000 people to Fair Park, happens each December.

Price also dismissed any assertion that the federal investigation into his finances impacted the committee's efforts to secure sponsors and raise funds. That investigation began in 2011, complete with court documents alleging the commissioner committed conspiracy, bribery and money laundering. He has not been charged with a crime.

"American Airlines went under and they went under several years ago," Price said. "So we've been carrying this thing for the last several years." 

Thomas Muhammad, an activist who helped found the event, said Monday that he suspected “the aura” around the investigation likely scared some corporate sponsors away. 

"If that were the case, it would have happened two years ago," Price said Tuesday. "Our expenses continue to mount. Just our 5k run, the city says, ‘OK, now you've got to pay for that.' You have to have so many medics. You've increased your security costs. So, our costs keep elevating.” 

In 2012, Price's office says the event cost $86,627.65. This year, organizers had a "working" budget, not final, of $61,804. Price left open the possibility that the event will return for 2014, but just how big it will be remains to be seen.

County Judge Clay Jenkins said the cancellation of this year event means a big loss for the community, particularly those who benefited from the health fair.

"It was the place where a lot of people went to get their care and it leaves a hole in our continuum of care to lose KwanzaaFest," Jenkins said. "I'm disappointed that we're not going to have it this year, but we're committed to finding ways to get those services to the community that they traditionally have gotten through KwanzaaFest."

Venita Kaglear often took her children to the festival. She also sided with the judge, saying the Healthfest, which offers everything from HIV screenings to vision testing and mammograms, was the big draw for her family. Last year, the event provided an estimated 175,000 screenings, an estimated value of $4 million.

"That's really a big deal, because a lot of people don't have insurance and can't really afford to go to the doctor otherwise," she said. "That's really a big deal." 

Other patrons say losing KwanzaaFest is a loss for the young people in the community. 

"I think it's a shame that it has been canceled because, in an area like this, we have our kids growing up and they need to learn more about our African-American heritage," said Nicole Hill, a KwanzaaFest attendee. 

Email mmoore@wfaa.com

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