Bennett’s Creek Park to hold first ‘Averyfest’
Published 5:17 pm Tuesday, August 29, 2023
From Suffolk to Bel-Air, James Avery’s life and legacy is fondly remembered by many in the city from his iconic role as a television dad.
This legacy will be celebrated in the first Averyfest from 4-8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, at Bennett’s Creek Park.
Avery, a native of the Pughsville community in Suffolk, is best known for his role as Will Smith’s uncle on the 90s sitcom “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
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Sponsored by nonprofit organization Unapologetically Black in collaboration with the AIDS Foundation of Hampton Roads, the festival will include food and entertainment, while celebrating African-American culture and equity.
AIDS Foundation of Hampton Roads Executive Director Trey Burch, the event’s organizer, said the festival will have a lot to offer those attending.
“There’s going to be lots and lots of special guests, speakers that will be in attendance,” Burch said. “We have a live jazz band that’s going to be out there as well, and they can expect music, food, and entertainment. Lots of food trucks are going to be out there, and all of our vendors are black-owned businesses as well.”
Before he died in 2013, Avery had an illustrious television and film career. For many, however, his role as Will Smith’s stern but loving father-figure uncle touched the hearts of many and placed him alongside actors such as Bob Saget (Full House), Reginald VelJohnson (Family Matters), John Goodman (Rosanne) and many beloved TV dads of the 1990s. Avery’s wife, Barbara and actor Daphne Maxwell Reid, one of two who played his television wife, Vivian “Aunt Viv” Banks, will make appearances.
Burch said both will share their memories of Avery at the festival.
“In addition to celebrating his legacy and talking about his time on ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’ we also want to share a little bit of history about Mr. Avery as well because he was a veteran. He also served in the Vietnam War,” he said.
In addition to being a veteran and an actor, Burch said he also wrote poetry.
“And he loved jazz music, which is why having that live jazz band out there was very important to us because that’s something that he really loved,” he added
Avery worked in voice acting, with animation fans recognizing him as the voice of Shredder in the 1987 TV series “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Burch explained how Avery’s work inspires Black actors in Suffolk to take different routes in their acting careers.
“I think it’s very inspiring to know that young Black folks out here in Suffolk can see somebody that also made it out of Suffolk to go on to do those things. Kind of in a ‘If he can do it, we can do it too’ type of thing,” Burch said.
He also pointed to the human impact of Avery’s role as Uncle Phil for many without a father figure.
“For people out here growing up in Suffolk that maybe didn’t have a real-life father, James Avery was a father figure for so many people. And I think a lot of people really looked up to him in that way,” Burch said. “He’s a TV dad, and “Uncle Phil” was a father, an uncle, and somebody that was essentially a role model for so many folks growing up that didn’t maybe have that in their lives. So I think when we speak on his memory and the legacy that he leaves behind, I think it’s important to acknowledge that aspect as well.”
Tickets will be donation-based. Those who purchase one can choose how much to give. A portion of the proceeds will go to Unapologetically Black and the AIDS Foundation of Hampton Roads.
“There are a lot of Suffolk people that don’t even know that James Avery is from Suffolk, specifically the Pughsville community,” Burch said. “But I think that Suffolk is so quick to acknowledge Mr. Peanut, a fictional character, and here we have a real man that made a lot of real change. I just think that it’s past time that he gets the acknowledgment that he deserves and we hope that we can keep his legacy alive by naming this African American cultural festival in his name.”
For information on Averyfest, go to facebook.com/averyfest or visit eventbrite.com to purchase tickets.
Editor’s note: Updated second and third passages at 6:37 p.m., Tuesday, August 29 to reflect accuracy.