Mark your calendars! On Saturday, September 16, the Baltimore County African American Cultural Festival will take place in downtown Towson for the 27th year in a row. R&B superstar Musiq Soulchild will headline the event. This year will be extra exciting with Towson University’s StarTUp collaborating with the festival to debut a Financial Empowerment Zone at the StarTUp at the Armory.

Established in 1996, the Baltimore County African American Cultural Festival (BCAACF) is a non-profit organization founded by Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates Adrienne Jones. The organization’s mission is to raise funds for charitable programs such as schools, scholarships, and historic preservation while also celebrating black history in Baltimore County. BCAACF offers in-person and virtual events with free admission.

About the Financial Empowerment Zone at the StarTUp at the Armory

The Financial Empowerment Zone is a collaboration with the Towson University StarTUp at the Armory, which offers a co-working space that’s free for the public and students to use. The StarTUp team supports entrepreneurs and businesses of any size to help grow their businesses. The Financial Empowerment Zone is a space for inspiring entrepreneurs and people who are interested in improving their personal finances. The Zone will have financial experts such as bankers, insurance agents, and lenders to give advice and resources to inspiring entrepreneurs.

I spoke with Ardys Russakis, director of engagement and operations at the StarTUp, about the collaboration and the importance of financial empowerment. We dove into why organizations choose to collaborate with Towson University. “I think it’s because it’s a known historic, public institution that has a very positive reputation around the state,” said Russakis. “We have a variety of educational disciplines that people can connect to based on their areas of need. I think the university has a well established relationship with a variety of communities where there’s faculty going out and expanding their scholarly work and doing good in the community and that includes bringing students along and having dedication into building those relationships.”

Russakis also spoke about the importance of people feeling financially empowered. “You have to have financial literacy as a basis. And there are so many people who to a certain degree go about their lives without accomplishing that. If you don’t have basic financial literacy, how to improve your finances, how to make investments with the dollars you have, how to not make investments, you are not financially empowered. I think it’s important because it’s just educating people in a space that sometimes we know enough, but not enough to really make change in our lives and our family lives.” The collaboration came together when the organization emailed Russakis with a proposal to use the space for this new zone. Russakis hopes that the event will bring more attention to the Armory and what StarTUP has to offer for students and the public.

Speaking of entrepreneurship, the Baltimore County African American Cultural Festival offers a platform for young black entrepreneurs to promote their businesses at the Youth Entrepreneurship Village. Take a look at young black business owners sharing their ideas, product, and talent. Talk with them about their journey as a young entrepreneur and support local black buildings.

More about the 2023 Baltimore County African American Cultural Festival

There are also other villages and zones to choose from while you attend the Baltimore County African American Cultural Festival.

If you’re interested in wellness and physical health, the Health and Wellness Pavilion is the place to stop by! Provided by healthcare professionals, The Pavilion offers free resources such as workshops, health screenings, haircuts, and immunizations for visitors. Presentations about nutrition and fitness are also available for visitors to listen to. The goal of the Health and Wellness Pavilion is to make open conversations about mental and physical health less taboo and provide free resources to the black community.

Support local businesses by stopping by one of the vendors! BCCAAF gives a platform for local business owners to promote their businesses. Walk down the marketplace and buy some great food, impeccable fashions, and a dose of knowledge when you indulge yourself in information sessions about African-American history and culture within Baltimore and the entire country.

There are several places to take your kids to the festival. First off, the festival offers the Children’s Champion Zone. In the zones, children will pass their time with face painting, immersing themselves in interactive performances provided by the Maryland Zoo, Science Center, Port Discovery, and the National Aquarium. Children will not only be indulged in knowledge about nature growing around then, but also Black history. Secondly, children are also welcome to visit the Youth Entertainment Pavilion. This part of the festival caters to the artistic side of the African American community in Baltimore. There will be performances by local young performers such as spoken word, dance, and theater. Lastly, all children are welcome to visit the K-12 village. Heavily focusing on S.T.E.M, the village offers resources and opportunities for students to get ready for the future of their education. The festival has been consistent in giving high achieving students in Baltimore County scholarships to pursue their careers in college. The non-profit provides scholarships to scholarly Baltimore County students every year who are involved in their communities. So far, BCCAF has awarded over $120,000 in scholarship money for students in Baltimore County.

The musical talent is one of the most exciting parts of the festival. This year, R&B star Musiq Soulchild will be headlining this year’s festival. Come watch the superstar behind the hits “Just Friends” and “sobeautiful” perform alongside other performers, such as Aaron Hill Trio featuring vocalist Ama Chandra and Micah Smith, Clarence Ward and Dat Feel Good, and the Jumpstreet band.

Don’t miss an opportunity to improve your personal finances at the Financial Empowerment Zone at the StarTUp at the Armory 12–5 p.m. on September 16 during the 2023 Baltimore County African American Cultural Festival. The festival is free to attend and located not too far from campus at 307 Washington Avenue. Come celebrate Black history and Black entrepreneurship. If you miss the festival, the StarTUp at the Armory Monday is open Monday–Friday, 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. for free co-working. See you there!