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African-American art, cultural festival returns

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By Erin Albanese, The Grand Rapids Press
Candace Guyton brought her four children to the Madison Square Unity Street Fair on Saturday afternoon for a good time collecting freebies and jumping on Spider-Man and Dora the Explorer inflatable jumpers.”I think they should do this all the time because there’s nothing for the kids to do except get in trouble and do stuff they have no business doing. Plus, it’s fun. It’s a good opportunity for the kids,” said Guyton, a Southeast side resident, as her 2-year-old son, Demarcus Smith, clad in bib overalls, danced next to her.

The free visual art and cultural festival, an annual event years ago, returned to Madison Avenue SE near the Madison Square Shopping Plaza. Sponsored by the South East Community Association, the festival featured information booths by Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grand Rapids Community College and the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps, music, giveaways and food.

Phyllis “Mama” Owens, recruited her three daughters, two granddaughters and her sister to help serve chicken, fries, fish and barbecued pulled pork.

Glad to help

Owens hopes someday to open a restaurant in Grand Rapids, and was excited to feed her friends, family and neighbors.

“I’m glad to be in my own community doing this,” she said.

South East Community Association members said reasons for the street fair’s return go beyond food and music.

The event is a way to highlight the good things in the neighborhood and invite people and businesses to check it out, said Amice Riley, the association’s crime prevention organizer.

“What we are really trying to do is get people to come back to this neighborhood, ” she said.

With a commitment to revitalization by the city, the association and inner-city nonprofit organizations Lighthouse Communities and Neighborhood Ventures, local advocates say it’s the right time to promote Southtown, which includes Madison Square.

“This area is coming back as one of the major business districts in the city,” said Gert Hopson, association president.

Grand Rapids school district board member Dave Allen, founder of Lighthouse Communities, said the locale is worth showing off.

Revitalization efforts include Lighthouse Communities’ plans to invest $1 million in the former library at Madison Avenue and Hall Street SE to be a new facility for the nonprofit and an incubator for start-up businesses.

Teion Crews, who worked as director of security, said the neighborhood has struggled to have its own festival.

“This community needs something to call its own,” he said. “I think it’s going to perpetuate growth in the community and instill values.

“Providing that everything happens according to God’s will, it’s going to have a trickling positive effect.”

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Written by Symphony

August 31, 2008 at 6:08 am

Posted in Arts

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