Roswell Roots Festival honors African-American historic contributions for Black History Month

Spoken word artist Ashlee Haze is a producer of Roswell Roots Festival's "Lyrics and Lyre." (Courtesy of Ashlee Haze)

This year, the City of Roswell, collaborating with Roswell Roots and community partners, will hold its 21st annual Roswell Roots Festival in honor of Black History Month. The month-long observance will feature flagship events such as “Lyrics and Lyre,”

The Spirit of Harriet Tubman” and the “Black Opry Revue,” created to educate and entertain the community about cultural and historic contributions of African-Americans. There will also be storytelling and drumming, theatrical performance and spoken word, and more. To talk more about the festival, spoken word artist Ashlee Haze joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom along with Corinne Sutherlin, Roswell Cultural Arts Supervisor of Recreation, Parks, Historic and Cultural Affairs. 

Interview highlights:

Kicking off the fest with music and poetry in the “Lyrics and Lyre” event:

“‘Lyrics and Lyre’ on Jan. 29 is going to be an evening of collaboration, and so I have four artist collaborations between one musician and one poet,” said Haze. “So I’ll be paired with [bassist] Téja Veal – she and I are going to open the show. Then you will hear from Carey Durham and Adán Bean; Carey Durham is a fantastic violinist, and Adán Bean is a poet and also a rapper. Then you’ll hear collaboration from Mia S. Willis, who is a queer non-gender conforming poet practicing in Atlanta, and you’ll hear from Rayn, who is our harpist, the ‘lyre’ in ‘Lyrics and Lyre.’ And then for our finale, you will hear from [poet] Jon Goode and Okorie Johnson, ‘OkCello,’ a fantastic cellist. Jon Goode is the host of ‘The Moth.’ So the audience is in for a show that is just full of wonder and curiosity and philosophy and poetry, and absolutely brilliant art, brilliant music.”

On “The Spirit of Harriet Tubman,” a performance by Leslie McCurdy:

“Especially with this festival, it’s a very important story and a very important person. And this year we try to strive to hit a lot of different thematic points – education, arts, cultural performance, local history – and I think this is a larger-scale conversation, of a natural and national history of someone who brought such importance, especially in our very own backyard,” Sutherlin said.

“It’s a one-woman show, which is really exciting because that takes a lot of effort and energy from a performer,” said Sutherlin. “So we’re very excited to have an appropriate all-age theatrical opportunity for the community, and we are presenting this as a school show. So we have two separate shows that will be happening on Friday, Feb. 3 at 10:00 AM and then another one on Saturday at 10:00 AM Feb. 4, so there’s an opportunity to bring your class by…. This is one of those special occasions where we don’t have a large theatrical performance. It’s a more educational and intimate setting with one performer in our large theater space.”

How pandemic-related adjustments created opportunity for Roswell Roots:

“We definitely all had to pivot, as a whole. But something that came new to us is transitioning some of our previous events to something that’s a little more virtual-friendly. We have some opportunities that now are for the younger audience, like our ‘Brain Bowl.’ We are inviting middle school students to engage in challenging head-to-head trivia for Black History – that’s something that used to be an in-person fair, and now we’re able to accommodate a broader audience that way,” explained Sutherlin.  “Most of our events will be in person this year, and there’s some opportunities to reach out to some of the speakers and see some of the art virtually, as well.”

Art displays oriented around this year’s Black History Month theme, “Black resistance:”

“We actually have a few things that are highlighting specific African-American life and history. The thematic part is going to be with ‘Stand,’ a Roswell Roots juried exhibit. We have local artists that have applied to bring their art in, a judge that’s looking through all of them. We had a lot of applications come through, so that was an exciting time to see a lot of talented artists from the local metro area,” said Sutherlin. “We also have inspired a student art exhibit that’s a partnership with our Fulton County schools here in Roswell. Almost all of the schools have contributed a canvas, and each school has highlighted a specific story or person with a contribution to Black resistance.”

The 2023 Roswell Roots Festival takes place throughout February at venues across the city of Roswell. A full event schedule and more information are available at