I’ve just finished four days sitting in Washington Park with my group, the Chicago Black Authors Network (www.chicagoban.blogspot.com) at the International Festival of Life event. My authors group is a collaboration of writers who have joined forces to promote our works.
Our goal is to bring our novels and literary publications to the forefront for the reading public. We are dedicated to being a Chicago Renaissance for both urban literature and fiction/non-fiction in general. From romance to comedy, children to fantasy, history and culture to inspiration and religion, we know we can fulfill whatever form of literary works one’s mind desires.
When I left home to go to the park, the heat was stifling. But once I got to the park, the constant breeze across the wide open space made the heat tolerable. I’m not normally a person who likes to sit outdoors a lot, but I do love going to the different parks whenever there’s a festival. There is something about the vendors grilling food, tents filled with merchandise and the sound of music drifting over the park that creates a memorable atmosphere. As I sat there watching the festival-goers enjoying themselves and reflecting on the 18th annual Festival of Life, I had to ask myself, where are the West Side park festivals for the black community?
I know every year there will be a huge week-long festival in Humboldt Park to celebrate the Puerto Rican parade. The Caribbean Festival, normally held in Union Park, was combined with the African-Caribbean Festival of Life this year and moved to Washington Park. We haven’t had a real Taste of Austin festival in a couple of years. Now even the Cubans are getting into the act by holding a festival at Riis Park on August 7-8. But where are the two day or longer festivals for the black community? Where are the festivals for Douglas, Columbus, and Garfield parks which all sit in the midst of the West Side?
Why are festivals important to have? Because they bring people to the park to celebrate, socialize and network. They unite us via common music, food and culture. Yet even though the black West Side is a huge community, we aren’t seeing any festivals that highlight our presence here.
We do have Congressman Danny Davis’ Back to School Parade and Picnic as well as state Senator Ricky Hendon’s West Side parade and picnic, but those events are political. What I want to see are events we can celebrate in our parks. We could use a huge Juneteenth celebration (June 19) in, say, Garfield Park. We can work to re-establish the Taste of Austin again in Columbus Park. We could have a celebration of Southern life in Douglas Park, seeing that the majority of black folks here came out of the south to live on the West Side.
Now I know some of the first words out of many of your mouths will be, “How come Arlene Jones doesn’t do something about it?” I don’t have a problem volunteering to help, but the bigger issue is this: What are you the reader willing to do? As always, I can be reached at 773-622-3863 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Lastly, I must make a comment on Taste of Chicago. I hadn’t gone there in a number of years but did so this year. I am grateful I can do what I call “Chicago Public School Math.” If one has to pay $8 for 12 tickets, that means at 50 cents a ticket, we are spending $6 toward food and $2 toward taxes. I came to that conclusion when I saw the highest ticket price was 12 tickets for any item. After doing the math, I opted not to spend a dime at the Taste. Shame on the city for pure greed in implementing a 25 percent tax on those tickets.