05/03/06 African American Museum celebrates birthday using Nigerian theme By DAMON C. WILLIAMS When the African American Museum in Philadelphia kicks off its weekend-long "Celebrate Africa! African Art & Cultural Festival," it will celebrate more than just the museum's rebirth and its 30th anniversary. By casting Nigeria as this year's focus country, the museum will acknowledge the synergy between itself and the numerous Nigerian groups that made this festival possible. "Our goal was to reach out to African communities," said Lawrence O. Dibor, chairman of the Celebrate Africa! festival and a museum board member for four years. Dibor has spent the past six months meeting with various African and Nigerian associations. The result is Friday's conference on trade and investment in Africa, in which professor George A. Obiozor, the Nigerian ambassador to the United States, will be the keynote speaker, while Bryant University professor Alphonso O. Ogbuehi will moderate. Obiozor is a guest at Friday's invitation-only reception, too. The conference looks at all aspects of Nigerian commerce, including its vast oil and gas reserves, telecommunications industry, and health care. The goal, said Dibor, is to create awareness about Nigeria's economic power. "This is going to be a great opportunity for this museum to showcase the culture and heritage of the continent, and specifically Nigeria, in a way that I don't know has been done before," said museum president Romona A. Riscoe Benson. "For us it's the beginning of establishing a meaningful relationship with people that make up a significant part of our mission." Other Nigerian-themed events for Friday include a celebration honoring famed Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, who penned the classic, "Things Fall Apart," and a performance by Nigerian musician Prince Twins Seven-Seven. On Saturday, there's a performance by Yoruban dancers and drummers, along with a "Mmanwu," or traditional Igbo Masquerade, which symbolizes ancestry in eastern Nigeria and West Africa. "We are celebrating who we are," said Dibor, himself a Nigerian. "We are people of value and tradition." There also will be an African fashion show featuring casual and formal wear with a Nigerian flavor, a performance by the Mbaise Group, an all-female Nigerian dance troupe, an African drumming workshop led by South African drummer Moganwame Mohloele and a film festival focusing on emerging African filmmakers. "We are a people coming," Dibor said. "It starts with this type of festival." * The public portion of the Celebrate Africa! African Art & Cultural Festival kicks off with educational presentations sponsored by Penn's African Studies Department, and runs through Sunday. Tickets are $8 per event, or $75 for a three-day, all-access pass. For more information, visit www.aampmuseum.org or call 215-574-0380.