Charles E. Johnson is the Founder of the Spirit of Sweet Auburn and the Executive Producer of the Sweet Auburn Springfest - The Big Show Tour.
Mr. Johnson has a passion for Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue that began when he moved to the city in 1984 from Philadelphia. He didn’t know anything about Auburn Avenue or its “great history” at the time, he says, and walking the street was his introduction to the community.
“It’s been a love affair ever since,” says the founder of the Spirit of Sweet Auburn (formerly the Friends of Sweet Auburn). In the late 1980s, Johnson participated in the Sweet Auburn Festival as a vendor and in later years became involved in Sweet Auburn’s business association. In 1993, he spearheaded the production of the festival, he says, and has done it ever since.
Today his voice is vibrant while detailing Auburn’s expansions, developments and happenings on what he calls “the greatest street on the planet.” “We want to promote the spirit that makes Auburn Avenue great. It’s a universal spirit,” says the Stone Mountain resident. "The same spirit that the people of South Africa had to fight apartheid. . .that’s the spirit of Sweet Auburn. That’s what makes the spirit great. That’s why 350,000 to 500,000 people come to the Sweet Auburn Festival."
“When I originally took over the festival, to some extent, it was a big flea market, says Johnson. What we’ve done over the years, we’ve developed various venues of the festival that include arts and literature, business and technology, a Dream Home Showcase, International Film Festival, Just For Women Expo, Car and Bike Show, the Fantastic Family Fun Zone, and last but not least, the Health and Fitness Fair. We want people to come to the festival to discover new stuff. We want them to see what folks are achieving. Those who come to the festival also have an opportunity to rediscover Auburn Avenue."
“When I speak of Sweet Auburn, I’m not just speaking of Auburn Avenue, I’m speaking of Edgewood, JW Dobbs, Jesse Hill Jr., the community, Johnson says. And if you look on Edgewood, you’ll see there are a lot of new exciting businesses opening: young Black visionaries, entrepreneurs are opening businesses. And that is what we celebrate."
“What’s great about the district is all of the major institutions have remained here, and they’re the ones who are supporting the resurgence of Sweet Auburn. Developments include the SCLC new National Headquarters; First Choice Credit Union Building; the restored Odd Fellows Buildings; Big Bethel AME, along with the Integral Group, an African American developer building Renaissance Walk; Wheat Street Baptist Church is planning major development; Butler CME; developing the Edge Lofts on Edgewood Avenue; First Congregational; the Historic District Development Corporation; Ebenezer Baptist Church; Butler Street Y; Prince Hall Masons also have projects in the works. These institutions are the ones that have maintained the street and are leading the redevelopment of the district. There is also great anticipation of the APEX Museum’s Phase 2, a $65 million plus Epcot type exhibit of the African American Panoramic Experience.”
"It’s wonderful when you can do something that you love to do and it’s successful. It’s a great satisfaction. It’s not a job," he explains. "When you see people are pleased and people come out to the festival and the businesses on the street prosper, the vendors make money and the artists who entertain are discovered, that’s fantastic."
"More important is that people rediscover Auburn Avenue and see it as a destination, a place to live, shop, dine, work, play and worship.” Johnson’s vision is to expand the festival to include Lucky Street (NW Auburn Avenue) and extend activities to Centennial Olympic Park, encompassing all of downtown, making the Sweet Auburn Springfest one of the largest street festivals in the world.
Complete information about the Sweet Auburn District may be found at www.sweetauburn.com.