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Forum Home > The Journey > 1st Annual James Weldon Johnson Festival

Tracy L Darity
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I participated in the 1st Annual James Weldon Johnson Festival, on March 26th, in my hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida. No other words can describe the day, other than it was simply beautiful. The festival was held on the grounds of the James Weldon Johnson Public Library, located on 18th Avenue S, west of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street. The weather was perfect and the atmosphere was reminiscent of an old summertime portrait. The well-kept grounds with their huge shade trees provided adequate cover for the various vendors, speakers, and other presentations that Kevin Johnson and the Friends of the Johnson Branch Library, worked so hard and diligently to bring together?not only for the community the library serves, but for the entire city. The only thing missing was those very people, which is a shame, because it was truly a wonderful event.


Regardless of the lack of community support for the festival, I hope to see it become a mainstay in our city. As I mentioned in my previous travel log, where I talked about visiting the state capitol for the first time, the James Weldon Johnson Festival had a lot to teach me, as well. As a disclaimer to all the wonderful educators who taught me during my twelve years in the Pinellas County public school system, this is by no means a slight to you; but probably speaks more to my inability to recall everything I have learned in this life of mine. Now the name James Weldon Johnson is not unfamiliar to me, thanks to Black History Month, but I swear, I did not know he wrote the lyrics to Lift Every Voice and Sing, coined the Black National Anthem, nor that his brother composed the song. Another tidbit of information I learned, is that his mother was the first black female school teacher in Florida. Click here for his biography. 


The festival kicked off with a keynote speech by Pastor Dexter McCree, followed by a portrayal of Mr. Johnson, by Leroy Mitchell. A community service award was presented to a local teacher (see there it goes again, I can?t remember Erika?s last name) but she is very deserving of the award. Although I may have shocked her senses when I reminded her that she made such an impact in my eldest daughters? life while mentoring her in the Y.E.S. (Youth Engineering Society) program that she has become a teacher herself. Erika was proud to hear this but didn?t seem to be able to fathom that one of her students was old enough to be a college graduate already. For the kids there was a puppet show, Taekwondo demonstration, and a Walking For Reading parade that led to the culmination of the event where kids were given free books. Oh, and for the adults there were some great prizes, like gift cards to Outback Steakhouse, and other cards and baskets.


As always, I used the opportunity to meet some new folks, and get reacquainted with others, like former classmate and now City Councilman for District 7, Wengay Newton; and County Commissioner District 7, Kenneth T. Welch, April Sheffield, Maria Scruggs-Weston, and Alton Rowe, to name a few.


I know this is a little off topic but I want share it, sometimes we go to people seeking assistance in obtaining information to get us to the next step in whatever we are trying to accomplish. But for whatever reason, they put up roadblocks to keep us from obtaining what we are seeking. I had a recent experience like this right before the festival and I let it annoy me for a second. But God has a way of always working things out, because the very things I was searching for turned up in the form of one of the vendors at the festival. So I want to give a shout-out to Ophelia Bonner-Ellison, RN, CDN, and Alma Kicklighter, Founder/Director of GHETTREAL Community Services, Inc. for all the HIV/AIDS material and data I was seeking to help me with the novel I am currently working on. When the book is finished I hope to partner, in some capacity, with this organization, whose mission is Gratitude, Hope, Empowerment, Testing, Treatment, Referrals, Education, Acceptance, and Life, for those affected by HIV/AIDS and Substance Abuse.


Last but definitely not least, kudos to the Friends of the Johnson Branch Library for all your hard work, and to Branch Librarian, Kathleen Dort, for not only supporting me by making my novels available at the library, but for supporting many other local authors. Until the next time.


Much Love,



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Tracy L. Darity is the author of He Loves Me He Loves Me Not! and Love?Like Snow In Florida on a Hot Summer Day. For more information please visit www.TracyLDarity.com.


April 12, 2011 at 8:15 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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