The fourth annual Unity Festival brought hundreds of residents together on March 7 to learn about the many resources available in Santa Monica. The festival’s theme this year was “Community Counts” to remind everyone to participate this month in the Census 2010.
Santa Monica resident, Rob Johnson, a producer and director of film, television and music videos was the festival’s keynote speaker. He told the gathered crowd, “I have traveled all over the world. I’ve lived in a lot of different places but I’ve never been part of a community. To be honest with you, I’ve never given it much thought.” However, after I moved to Santa Monica I feel I became part of this community. I’ve even moved my business here.
The festivities also included presenting Unity Awards to three community leaders who according to the various presenters “dedicate their time in and out of work to make a difference in their community.” The honorees were former Santa Monica City Manager, Lamont Ewell, former Santa Monica Fire Chief, Jim Hone and former Will Rogers Elementary School Principal, Irma Lyons who passed away in 2009.
Unity Festival co-chair, Marcia Fierro, explained that the festival is based on the premise that “knowledge is power and is the best tool to support the families” and help end gang violence in the community.
More than fifty booths were part of the festival this year and they showcased services and products from the City of Santa Monica, the business community, non-profit agencies, and the faith community. A special feature this year was a Youth Zone containing information booths and youth activities to highlight the formation of a new Youth Collaborative. The mission of the collaborative is to “promote the well-being, education, and civic participation of youth in our community.”
The Executive Director of YWCA Santa Monica/Westside, Julia Miele, told the Mirror the YWCA spearheaded the formation of the collaborative in 2009 “to support and facilitate collaboration among existing organizations serving youth (from 5-18) in these challenging economic times” and to ensure comprehensive service programming and geographic coverage. They are in the process of developing a Word Press Blog, designed by youth for youth that will be a resource for youth-focused programs and services. Eventually, the blog will become part of the city’s website’s Youth Portal. Also in the works is a pocket guide of youth resources.
The other co-chair of the festival, Kathleen Benjamin, discussed the history of the festival with the Mirror by mentioning the festival began originally as a Love and Unity Festival at the Will Rogers Elementary School by the Will Rogers African American Parents group. Eventually, the Afro-American connection was dropped. “The month of March was chosen for the festival because it’s after Black History Month and before Cinco de Mayo.” Then four years ago the City of Santa Monica became involved as well as the South Bay Area Human Relations Council and the festival moved to Virginia Avenue Park. This coincided with several gang related incidents in the city.
Mirror Contributing Writerhannah@smmirror.com