Nkechi Ajanaku, longtime director of the organization that puts on the annual Kuumba Festival, died June 1 at age 60.
A celebration of life is planned 3-6 p.m. Saturday at Alex Haley Heritage Square in the Morningside Park area of East Knoxville, according to Unity Mortuary in Knoxville. Ajanaku died at University of Tennessee Medical Center.
On Monday, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero tweeted: "Our thoughts & prayers go out to family, friends of Nkechi Ajanaku, the driving force behind the Kuumba Festival."
Ajanaku oversaw African American Appalachian Arts Inc., which presents Kuumba every June. Events this year are set for June 22-25 in Knoxville.
A native of Gary, Ind., Ajanaku moved to Knoxville several decades ago.
Promoting African-American arts across the region was among her passions, along with politics.
In addition to championing Kuumba, which showcases the arts including dance and performance, Ajanaku was a key supporter of the installation of the Alex Haley statue in Haley Heritage Square.
Haley, a former East Tennessean who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Roots", is depicted in the 13-foot statue reading to children. The statue was dedicated in 1998.
Kuumba started in 1989 out of a need to celebrate the arts, Ajanaku told broadcaster Hallerin Hilton Hill in a 2014 appearance on his show, "Anything Is Possible."
"I think in 25 years Kuumba Festival has become its own entity," she said. "I call it a 'she'. I say she knows how to get up by herself."
Ajanaku said she had dedicated her life to "Do the don't" - to being the person she wanted to be.
"Who says that you cannot be yourself? Who says that? And why would you have to conform for success?" she told Hill.
Ajanaku was the mother of four children and numerous grandchildren.
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