Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Roberta Flack, one of the founding members of Africare, took one look around the shoulder-to-shoulder reception at the Iranian embassy Sunday night and sputtered joyously, "My mouth just keeps dropping."
The singer was remembering the first tiny brown-bag fund raisers for the 5-year-old relief organization and noting the growth some guests felt paralleled the spiraling grass-roots conciousness about Africa.
"Still we have not touched the surface in correcting attitudes towards Africa - it is not a blah, one monolithic continent," said C. Payne Lucas, the founder of Africare, a private group with 22 development projects in seven African nations. "Now that we have everyone's attention we have to develop a following . . . Africa has to become a way of life."
Ealier Sunday afternoon at the State Department pianist Wayne Davis alternate his musical tribute to that continent between a celebration of progress, to a plea for spiritual help for future understanding.
On the same stage, the remarks of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) ranged from relief that being called an African no longer causes a fistfight, to an emotional request for an African constituency in the U.S.
And the estimated 800 Washingtonians who were there to support the work of Africare tapped their feet to Davis' music and cheered Rangel's remarks.
Besides Davis and Rangel, the afternoon program included brief speeches by William E. Schaufele Jr., asistant secretary of state for African affairs, Ivory Coast Ambassador Timothee Ahoua, dean of the African diplomatic corps, and dance sequences by Mike Malone's D.C. Repertory's Dance Company. J.C. Hayward of WTOP acted as emcee.
Iranian Ambassador Ardeshir Zahedi said he gave the party not only because of his country's historical relations with Africa but also because of his close ties with African diplomats from the time he was foreign minister.
The guests, who comprised what Lucas called "a microcosm of what could happen," in terms of an ongoing African constituency, ranged from young professionals and veteran State Department employees, to politicans such as Marion Barry and cultural entrepreneurs such as Kennedy Center board chairman Roger Stevens. Everyone paid $25.
Though the rooms of the embassy overflowed, attorney Wiley Branton said that Sunday night's turnout was only the beginning. "I'm struck by the paucity of people here from among my associates. There is a need for more citizens to be involved," sand Branton. "This is only a drop in the bucket."