- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

Founder of Kunta Kinte festival

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Leonard A. Blackshear, a businessman who was the driving force behind Annapolis’ annual Kunta Kinte festival and other cultural events commemorating the role of Africans in American history, died March 24 at his home. He was 62.

Mr. Blackshear, a native of Savannah, Ga., had multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of the bone marrow, his wife, Patsy Blackshear, said.

A successful businessman, Mr. Blackshear devoted most of his energy to community work after being diagnosed with the cancer in 2000 — most notably to the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation and the establishment of a Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley memorial at the City Dock.

“My big problem was holding him back,” Mrs. Blackshear said of her husband’s many civic endeavors.

One of his more challenging projects was in 2004, when he promoted a reconciliation and healing walk in Annapolis, featuring whites in symbolic chains and yokes to be released by blacks.

“Racism is a cancer eating away at the American soul,” he said then. “This activity is simply one type of chemotherapy that we are looking to apply to that cancer because we believe the patient can and wants to be healed.”

Mr. Blackshear earned an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a master’s degree in business administration from American University.

After college, he worked as a systems engineer at IBM, where he earned a prestigious award for developing a marketing program that mapped out the company’s sales program. He later founded Associated Enterprises Inc., which became TeleSonic Inc., a company that helped pioneer the use of voice mail.

But Mr. Blackshear may be best remembered for his love of history and culture and his determination to help blacks — and all Americans — connect with their African roots.

This community activism dates back to when he was an engineering student at Hunter College in Manhattan and he worked with Malcolm X and the Harlem Youth Opportunities Forum.

In Maryland, he helped create the United Black Clergy group in Anne Arundel County and begin the black-needs assessment through the United Way, which evolved into Associated Black Charities.

In the mid-1980s, he helped start the annual Kunta Kinte festival, held each year in Annapolis. The festival was named after the character in Alex Haley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Roots,” who was taken in Gambia and sold into slavery after being transported to Annapolis in 1767.

A coalition of civil rights groups in Anne Arundel County honored him with the Dream Keepers Award for his work to establish a Haley memorial at the Annapolis City Dock.

Mr. Blackshear’s ashes were to be scattered on the Chesapeake Bay near Bloody Point, in commemoration of the slave ships that entered the harbor there.

In addition to his wife, survivors include his parents, Elsie and Frank Blackshear Sr. of Kissimmee, Fla.; three sisters, Elsie Chapman of New Haven, Conn., and Carmen Shortt and Nannearl Jordan, both of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and three brothers, Frank Blackshear Jr. of Kissimmee, Dwight Blackshear of Los Angeles and George Blackshear of Queens, N.Y.

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