The Unity Resource Festival drew record crowds (over a thousand) in its third year on Sunday afternoon, March 8, at Virginia Avenue Park. The festival, sponsored by the City of Santa Monica, Santa Monica College, and the Santa Monica-Bay Area Human Relations Council, features information on resources available from the City, business, and nonprofits that strengthen the community with supportive services, and also provides information on opportunities for residents to volunteer in programs for youth and families.
The festival is also a celebration complete with music, food, speeches, a variety of activities for youth, awards, and a remarkable youth dialog featuring 14- to 24-year-olds discussing freedom of expression under the theme of “Power in Numbers: The Value of Our Voices.”
Perhaps the most telling comment on the impact of the festival was that of Louise Jaffe, who chairs the SMC Board of Trustees, when she told the crowd that she had always thought about “change in creating community” by focusing on problems and things that need fixing, but after listening to the uplifting music of the Luminaries, she realized that it was “not just about what troubles you, but what you love and what you are passionate about.”
The Youth Dialog
Samohi junior Mark Garcia and Isis Enriquez, a student at both Olympic High School and SMC, led about 20 youths in a discussion that began with a consideration of the First Amendment – What if we didn’t have it? Do you find your opinion discounted because you’re a teenager?
The dialog moved on to consider, “What is ‘voice’?” Desiree thought it was any tool one used to express – in her case art. Julian said he expressed himself through his lyrics and making music, and he added that hip-hop was “slowly but surely resurrecting itself” and getting back to its “original theme of love and unity.”
The young people spoke of stereotyping, of the pressure to conform to “MTV-imposed culture,” and of the social risks involved in speaking with an independent voice. “Do we all like blonde girls?” asked one young woman, though there was not one blonde girl (or boy) in the room. Luz noted that she used to try to be like others, but now she is simply herself. Julian said that it took his losing friends to become himself, but that it was worth it.
Addressing the subject of authority, Mark asked whether anyone should talk as though they were above you. “No, we’re all the same,” was the first response. Then Angel asked, “If someone has worked hard to get to where they are, doesn’t that give them the right to speak [with authority]?” After much discussion (including the subject of cops), the consensus seemed to be that it did, but that there was a difference between a reasonable show of authority and abuse of authority and “speaking down” to people.
Music, Food, and Games
The outdoor stage hosted lively music by the “conscious hip-hop” band Luminaries, jazz ensemble Back of the Hand All Stars, and internationally traveled local band Horny Toad, while an array of food was available from the organic Green Truck, and various booths.
A rock climbing wall challenged all comers, fitness contests were held by O2MAX fitness, and the most crowded booth in the park featured arts and crafts for the youngsters.
Speeches and Awards
The outdoor stage also presented addresses by SMC Trustee Jaffe and 2008 Olympics bronze medalist Tasha Danvers. Speaking of the current state of the economy, Jaffe noted, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” and stressed the need to work with others in order to make a difference – others who were on display in the many resources booths at the festival. Danvers noted that there had been a time when the unity and diversity of this day “would not have happened,” and urged the crowd to “live to the maximum of your potential.”
Unity awards for outstanding community service were presented to the Santa Monica Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Lions, and GEMS.