I was one of those volunteers wearing yellow T-shirts at Summerfest. As I sold tickets for the children’s rides and beer in Constitution Court, this is what I saw.
An African-American grandma wearing a plastic fire fighter’s hat grooving to a country western band as she held her grandson’s hand.
A middle aged white guy proudly introducing to everyone the little girl from Guatemala he and his wife had adopted.
A lady tooling around in a motorized wheelchair eating cotton candy.
Lots of strollers with wide eyed babies pushed by parents and grandparents.
Children showing off their painted faces to admiring adults.
Rob McAdam selling two tickets to a dad and saying to the little girl, “I bet you’re going on the slide,” and the kid vigorously nodding her “yes.”
Lots of people eating Brown Cow ice cream in defiance of the cool weather.
A family of six negotiating in Spanish how much money they were going to spend and then sending their bi-lingual twelve year old to purchase the tickets.
Lots of people holding plastic cups of Miller Genuine Draft but no one acting out of line (it was only five in the afternoon, I guess).
A retarded adult stopping to chat with me during a lull in the ticket sales.
Five regular and auxiliary police with nothing to do.
Six volunteers wearing yellow shirts”to make up for the lack of sunshine”smiling, telling stories, joking with folks buying tickets, trying to be helpful, having a good time.
The vast majority of children”even teenagers”politely saying thank you as I give them the tickets they had purchased.
Many well behaved dogs.
Neighbors greeting neighbors.
A country western band wearing matching plaid shirts and a female fiddle player with the brightest red lipstick I’d ever seen.
Asians, Hispanics, whites, blacks, retarded folks, teachers, bank executives, janitors, kids and grandpas walking around as if they belonged there.
Cec Hardacker, one of Summerfest’s coordinators, talking about making the event bigger and better next year.
Laurie Kokenes, the Chamber Executive director, saying that the turnout was pretty good considering the weather
Now, I realize that there are problems in our village: controversy in the police department, wrangling in the Council, and”can you believe it”criticism of the local newspaper. I am well aware that there are divisive issues in our nation: gay marriage, immigration reform and the war in Iraq. And God knows there is almost unimaginable pain and suffering going on in the world.
Yet, as I watched the interaction going on at Summerfest, for a moment I thought I heard Louis Armstrong singing “It’s a Wonderful World” from somewhere behind one of the many clouds.
I know that Summerfest was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, and that means that the bottom line was promoting business in Forest Park. The Chamber spent $4,000 on advertising hoping to double last year’s turnout. I’m not sure whether that happened, since final figures were not available when I wrote this, but I doubt it.
I don’t know if Summerfest met the goals of the business community. In my opinion, it met an even more important goal”that of building community in terms of the whole village. Community”that elusive cohesiveness, that e pluribus unum”is a precious thing. I ran across an African proverb recently which goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
One thing that impresses me about the present Chamber of Commerce (disclosure: I’m on the board of directors) is that its leadership understands this. Cec Hardacker said as much when the Review quoted her as saying “We don’t want people to think this is just another drunkfest. It’s about families, fun and community”that’s what Summerfest is about and that’s what Forest Park is about.”
I was listening to a report about the terrorists who were arrested in Canada recently. One commentator said that Toronto had always prided itself on its diversity. The problem, he said, was that some of Toronto’s many ethnic groups had become isolated and excluded from the rest of the community. He concluded that the focus had to shift from tolerance of diversity to integration of every group into community. Perhaps the Review was prophetic when it changed its front page slogan from “the paper with the personal touch” to “Growing Community.”
Our village doesn’t have a high school, an institution that binds people together. It doesn’t have a parish church on the plaza to which everyone goes. We don’t have an athletic team for which everyone cheers. We need events at which folks from all segments of our town can bump into each other, have a positive, shared experience together, and get a mental picture of who we are as a community.
Thanks to Mark Hosty and Cec Hardacker, who coordinated the event, and to everyone who invested their time and energy in making Summerfest a good experience. Next comes the fireworks display on the Fourth. Somehow, we need to find more ways through which we can nurture community.