“There were Black folks here, Black folks there, Black folks everywhere.”

That’s how Melva Sampson, assistant professor of preaching and practical theology at Wake Forest University, describes Winston-Salem when she and her husband Darrick Young moved there in 2017.

The couple relocated from Atlanta, known as “Black Hollywood” in popular culture due to the city’s large Black population, plethora of Black-owned businesses and high number of Black entertainers that emerge from the area. The move to Winston-Salem coincided with the National Black Theatre Festival, and the city was abuzz with Black filmmakers, actors and artists. For a short time, the couple felt like they never left Atlanta; however, once the festival ended, the differences between the cities became evident.

“After that week was over, we were searching for that kind of consistency,” says Sampson, who  longed for more events centered around Black culture.

This inspired the two to create the 1Love Festival, a “celebration of African diasporic culture through music, art, innovation and entrepreneurship.” The event is a sponsored project of the Arts Council of Winston Salem & Forsyth County and funded by the UNC School of the Arts, American National Bank and Trust and a host of other community organizations. It’s also an extension of the Pink Robe Chronicles, Sampson’s Facebook livestream series that, according to the website, “centers faith and spirituality using the womanist and Afrocentric values of self-determination, serious engagement, and liberating self-love to highlight the importance of collective work and responsibility in healing and sustaining marginalized communities.”

L-R: Charity Jackson, High Point Arts Council; Darrick Young, Co-Founder of 1Love Festival; Melva Sampson, Co-Founder of 1 Love Festival

The festival is in its third year, the first being held in Winston-Salem in 2019. The organizers chose to forgo the event in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. This year, the festival added two new locations: Houston and Miami. According to Young, these areas have been popular with relocators in recent years.

“Texas, Florida and North Carolina are three of the top five locations where people are migrating,” he says.

He continues, “We thought it was important that we bring this cultural festival to those areas.”

This year’s festival kicks off on Thursday with events taking place through Saturday. Following an introduction by host and comedian Kevin Smith and a performance by musical storyteller VStarrr on Friday, the majority of the festival will take place the next day.  Artistic soul conversations surrounding mental and physical wellness, entrepreneurship and innovation of Black spaces led by Dr. Amber Baker, Young himself and others will kickstart things on Saturday. That evening, Chelsey Green and the Green Project, Charlotte-based R&B singer Nia Zhané and other music acts will take the stage. 

According to Sampson, the organizers sought talent whose material aligned with the goals of the festival.

“Who are the artists that are uplifting the culture in a positive and conscious way?” Sampson asked herself while booking guests.

In 2019, Blitz Bazawule attending the festival was the talk of the town. The Ghanaian filmmaker is best known in the states for his participation in Beyoncé’s visual album Black is King, which earned him a nomination for Best Music Film at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards in 2021. Most recently, Bazawule directed the musical reimagining of The Color Purple, set to release this year on Christmas Day. This year’s headliner is the “King of Independent R&B” Eric Roberson, best known for two Grammy nominations and for collaborating with musicians Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild and DJ Jazzy Jeff.

The objective of the festival is to empower, educate and inspire people about the African diaspora and its history. While the couple stresses the festival is for the entire community to enjoy, the main focus is not to be missed.

“We love Black people,” Sampson says.

With conviction, Young adds, “Period.”

The 1LOVE Festival takes place June 22-24 at the Enterprise Center and Reynolds Place Theatre in Winston-Salem. A free kickoff event will be held Thursday, June 22 at 7 p.m. at Reynolds Place Theater. Find more information and purchase tickets at 1lovefestival.com or facebook.com/1lovefestival.

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