Ankara, the popular fabric most identified with African culture, took center stage at Afropolitan DC's Sept. 6 kickoff to African Heritage Month on the "Ankara Runway." (Photo by Lili Iravani)
Ankara, the popular fabric most identified with African culture, took center stage at Afropolitan DC's Sept. 6 kickoff to African Heritage Month on the "Ankara Runway." (Photo by Lili Iravani)

When the District of Columbia began to recognize September as “African Heritage Month” in 2010, the homegrown version of Black History Month with an emphasis on Africa and the diaspora population took hold and has been growing in participants since.

Each year, the mayor’s annual DC Africa Celebration brought together diverse African diaspora communities in the District with African art, culture, food, history, music and showcases designed to highlight the burgeoning contributions Africans make to the cultural and economic essence of the city.

Since its inception in 2010, the DC Africa Celebration became one of the city’s most anticipated African cultural events, drawing thousands of attendees — a testament to the unprecedented growth and vitality of the District’s African community.

While in recent years, the festivals sponsored by the city have dwindled, other groups stepped up to keep the observations alive. This year, Afropolitan Cities DC, a group of young African professionals living and working in the area, took on the task of kicking off the month with a mixer and fashion show of the beloved African fabric known as Ankara.

Called “Ankara” in West Africa, and “kitenge” in East Africa, both terms refer to the wax-printed, brightly colored and bold designs of what is quintessentially African fabric. Its origins, though, were from the Dutch, who had the designs created in the batik process in Indonesia, with the company Vlisco taking the lead in the market. African countries are now producing their own Ankara and Kitenge on the continent.

Attendees were asked to “partake in our campaign to promote African pride and heritage through African fashion, and to “come dressed in your most glamorous and stylish African wear and ready to work the ‘Ankara Runway.’ ”

Enthusiasm for viewing, buying and just wearing the popular Ankara has sparked a Part Two on Sept. 27, where another local designer will stock the “Ankara Runway” as the audience wears their most fashionable African print clothes.

To close out the month’s celebration and to celebrate the anniversary of one of D.C.’s most beloved eateries on the Wharf, Kith/Kin will observe two years of business under the direction of James Beard Award-winning chef Kwame Onwuachi, whose heritage reads like a mélange of African diaspora cultures: on his father’s side, Nigerian and Jamaican, and his mother’s side, Trinidadian and New Orleans Creole.

In honor of and paying homage to the essence and heritage of West Africa’s unique and diverse culture and cuisine, Kith/Kin, located inside the InterContinental Washington D.C., will host a vibrant night market on Tuesday, Oct. 1 from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Promising the restaurant’s signature dishes in its unique atmosphere, designed by the 29-year-old chef, the “interactive and enlightening evening will be accentuated with stunning waterfront views of the Potomac River on The Wharf, delicious food, eclectic sounds featuring live music entertainment from DJ Chardabat ranging from Afrobeats and Highlife to Afro-Soul, all intertwined with live dancing and sounds from traditional Djembe and talking drums. ”

Local chefs from throughout the District and DMV will create their unique spin on classic and modern West African dishes, with sweet and savory bites by the celebrated chefs and will encompass a diverse range of dishes and spices. Traditional dishes such as Suya, Oleleh, Spicy Goat and Jollof Rice and Banana Bourbon Pudding, will be on the menu to name a few.

Creative handcrafted cocktails garnished with a variety of tropical fruits will be prepared by lead mixologist Sunny Seng and available at the cash bar.

Specialty vendors such Calabash Tea & Tonic, Pelonkey, and others will ensure attendees experience an eclectic and exciting night of fun, food and entertainment paying homage to West Africa.

“Africa is now!” said Onwuachi, Kith/Kin’s executive chef, who will host the event. “I want to celebrate the history of this amazing continent over the series of late night markets, bringing together different chefs from the D.C. area to celebrate the Diaspora.”

The chefs participating in the closing observation of African Heritage Month include Caitlin Dysart, Centrolina + Piccolina; Danny Lee and Scott Drewno, Chiko + Anju; Erik Bruner-Yang, Maketto + Brothers and Sisters + Spoken English; Javier Fernandez, Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly; Jerome Grant, Sweet Home Café; JR Robinson, Kitchen Cray; Opie Crooks, A Rake’s Progress; Peter Prime, Cane; and Onwuachi and Paola Velez of Kith/Kin.

“Africa has influenced so many cultures,” said Velez, Kith/Kin’s executive pastry chef. “So much so, that we have at many times forgotten to give credit where it’s due. As an Afro-Latina, the night market is a celebration of all of the melting pot cultures that have been birthed in Africa. The last two years, the Kith/Kin team at IHG has started a cultural revolution, one fried snapper at a time.”

All proceeds from the event will be donated to No Kid Hungry/Share Our Strength. Kith/Kin is located at The Wharf (801 Wharf St SW, Washington, DC 20024;; (202) 878-8566; @KithandKinDC).

Tickets for the “Ankara Runway” on Sept. 27 are available by visiting Afropolitan Cities DC’s Facebook page, or on their website at

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