Heritage Festival celebrates race, culture

A large crowd gathered on Georgia Street by early Saturday afternoon for the Heritage Festival.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Sheria Griffin

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook Staff Writer

It seemed like most people in the crowd that gathered at the intersection of Georgia Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard were eager to be there.

They’d endured more than a year of going without a single cultural event to attend because of the pandemic outbreak. They got their reprieve Saturday morning with the return of the Heritage Festival, a signature event put on for the last nine years by the Frenchtown Neighborhood Improvement Association.

Oneil Brown, owner of OB Fit, was one of the early arrivals. He was there to support members of an exercise class from Kingz and Queenz Fitness, as they livened up the scene with a series of workout routines.

The occasion wasn’t lost on Brown, who seemed to be inspired by the mix of people in the crowd.

“When you deal with heritage, it’s not just one race; it’s all race,” Brown said. “It’s the human race; bring a variety of people together to take something and better ourselves. Also better our community.”

That indeed was the idea when organizers decided to stage the event in Frenchtown, a community deep in multi-culture. The area was also one of the most vibrant as a self-contained area in the city.

Efforts are underway to revive the area, but in the meantime its past is worth celebrating, said Sheria Griffin, a Frenchtown Neighborhood Improvement Association board member.

“We want to bring back that heritage and show how we are still going even though everyone is spread out; we can still come back together and celebrate.”

Griffin, an educator, said the event could be a step toward teaching young people about what life in the community was like.

“The one thing that we are lacking in the Black community is that we don’t generationally pass on stories and things that were important in our community,” she said. “More than anything, this is to educate (young people) on this part of the community and how important it was for Black people.

“It’s important for us to revisit the past and bring our children so they can have these experiences and keep it going as we get older.”

Early on the crowd was slow coming out, something attributed to overcast skies in the morning. The crowd eventually got bigger, as the afternoon heated up and a lemonade stand became one of the most popular spots in the rows of vendors by early afternoon.

Mayor John Dailey made a brief appearance on stage shortly after Kelvin Frazier’s Kingz and Queenz class had taken the crowd through their workout routine.

“One of the great things about our city is our neighborhoods and our communities so it’s important that we celebrate who we are,” Dailey said. “We need some celebration in this day and age; let’s have a good time. We need to do more of this.”

 Food and music were very much a part of life in Frenchtown and there was plenty of both Saturday. Families were seen used seating area under a tent to enjoy some of the dishes that were on sale. Others just sat around to relax from the heat.

 The entertainment lineup included the Beehive Elite dance troupe.  Other acts included rapper K3 of Tampa, Tallahassee’s Dallas Aleea who performed R&M, while Kat the Duchess offered a repertoire of neo soul tunes.

Aleea, a Chiles High School graduate, was making her first appearance at the Festival. She called it one of her biggest shows because of the ties to historic Frenchtown.

“It’s very important for me to be able to represent what that means and be a part of it,” she said.

The weekly Frenchtown Market added to the Festival. The main staples were fruits and vegetables, but Hispanic and Indian foods were very much a part of the mix.

Alex Jordan, a former candidate for City Commission, applauded the cultural additions.

“That’s their heritage,” he said. “That’s their culture and that’s the diversity I like to see in our community when it comes together. It’s great to be able to have this in our community.”

 While not everyone who had something to sell seemed to be doing brisk business, Monica Smart Gainous, who coordinator the vendors, said she set out to make it “a for everyone.”

It was her first time coordinating the Festival, but one she was glad to be a part of.

“People came before us to make this happen; those folks that worked hard to make sure that we could be here today,” she said. “Today is a special day just to be at the Heritage Festival. That’s a special feeling in itself.”