Volunteers with community ties drive Soul of Southside

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

On paper, the Soul of Southside Festival looks like an event that would require an army of people to pull it off. It seemed that way initially to founder and lead organizer Christic Henry, but she found a purposeful way to enlist the people to drive the event.

She ended up with nine committees, each one made up of volunteers who have a vested interest in the success of the event. The event kicks off for the second year Saturday morning with a 5K race from Lake Anita, the hub of the festival.

Every one of Henry’s assistants checked out for their roles.

“They had to be authentic, they had to be legitimate, they had to be from this community or have a significant history of being a stakeholder and action within the community,” Henry said. “Whoever was going to be working to drive this festival had to come from the community.”

Not just that. She set out to find people who would “lend their expertise, their heart and knowledge in order to rise up the profile of this area.”

Volunteers began meeting in the fall of 2020 for the initial festival. They continued meeting year round and the schedule became as frequent as six times each week as they got closer to kicking off the event.

Individuals like Cheron Thornton, Nicole Everett and Karen Gillispie were natural fits for the task of delivering an event that would showcase what most people don’t know about the Southside. Each of them is deeply rooted in the community.

Thornton heads up the logistics and planning committee. Henry described her as “the engine that makes sure all of our volunteers who work alongside her make the show happen. She is the backbone to all the committees.”

Everett is co-chair of the history and culture committee along with Rachel Porter. Everett, host of Conversation with Nicole, also assists with marketing and communication.

Volunteering is a natural for her, Everett said, because of the group’s four main tenets  — history, culture, commerce and love.

“With those four tenets in mind,” she said, “our focus is on the history of the Southside from the standpoint of neighborhoods, schools, spaces and places.”

As much as she is enticed by what the event means, it’s more than a labor of love, Everett said.

“I have a lot of Southside pride; a longtime resident with 20-plus years,” she said. “I just feel that the stories have not been told so I like to highlight what has taken place and what is taking place. The volunteering is important to me because I love Southside.”

The same goes for Gillispie, a realtor who heads up administration and the finance committee. She has perhaps the deepest roots in the Southside. She was born at FAMU hospital, she attended school in the area and her family has long ties to the area that goes back to when Southside communities were self-contained.

Volunteering was a no-brainer, she said.

“When Christic called to say she was putting on this festival to help our community understand the value that Southside brings to the whole community, that’s what drew me to this project,” she said. “Really it’s not just a project; it’s a movement.”

That movement is just beginning to spring legs, Henry said. 

“This year will be the first step in the critical expression of Tallahassee Southside value,” she said.

The festival starts with a 5K run beginning at Lake Anita on Adams Street at 7:30 a.m. Saturday. Later in the day, an unattached block party will take place in Bond.

On Sunday, there is an inspirational community kickoff at Jacob Chapel from 3:30 to 5:30. Performers will include the Calvary Boys, Omega Forbes, Jay Williams and Star Swain.

On May 17, Black-on-Black Rhymes open mic takes place at Catering with Care on South Monroe Street, 7:30-10 p.m.

On May 18, the Working Class Wednesday Soul of Southside Celebrity Fundraiser goes on at Signature Lounge, 6-8 p.m., then the scene shifts to a jazz event, featuring local talent from 8 to 11p.m. at the same venue.

On May 19, Lake Anita will be the hub of activities with a senior drive-by fish fry at noon to 2:30. A drum line competition follows at  3 p.m. to 5:30. The final event on that day is a panel on freedom from 6 to 8 p.m. at the AC Marriott Hotel – Cascades Rooms 4 & 5. 

Everything moves back to Lake Anita on May 19 for the Sundown Music Showcase, beginning at 5 p.m.

Things cranks up with a community breakfast at 8 a.m. on May 21. A neighborhood tour takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in between, beginning at noon #UnapologeticallyLocal Jam Session takes place until 5 p.m., when the Southside Honors Concert takes place. Tallahassee Nights Live headlines with national recording artist Lebrado.

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