O’FALLON PARK – For the fifth year in a row, New Carrie’s Corner Market hosted a block party on the corner of Athlone Avenue and Rosalie Street.
Neighbors, residents and children took part in the celebration Tuesday night from 5 to 8 p.m., excited to enjoy one another’s company.
As one of the only black-owned stores in north St. Louis since 1992, Gary and Melba Willis, owners of New Carrie’s Corner Market, 4500 Athlone Ave., say the block party is something they wanted to do for people.
Originally scheduled as part of National Night Out, the Willises sponsor the celebration every year as a way of giving back to the neighborhood.
Ice cream, cotton candy, bounce houses, double dutch, popcorn, snow cones, BBQ and music were all part of the festivities.
“[We’re] using it as a positive stepping stone hopefully to enhance the people, and encourage the people, inspire the people that you can do something positive,” Gary Willis said.
“We can get together on a positive note,” he added. “It doesn’t have to be nothing negative or violence or anything. It’s just something that we’ve been doing, and people were looking forward to doing it.”
Willis reflected back on the first block party that the business hosted, four years ago, which happened to fall on Aug. 4, the same day as his son, Gary Jr.’s, birthday.
Unfortunately, Gary Jr. passed away, but the Willises honor his memory every year at the block party with a balloon release.
A crowd of at least 100 people surrounded Gary Willis as he talked about the importance of loving one another. Red, white and blue balloons painted a backdrop against the evening sky as everyone released them in remembrance.
“There’s no crime. We’re all getting along,” Melba Willis said. “We’re happy. We’re together.”
“The community kind of encouraged us to do it because this is what they need, not people talking love but people actually doing love,” Gary Willis added.
Kimberly-Ann Collins, 25, a native north St. Louisan and a candidate for Missouri state representative, helped out at the block party.
“Like Gary Willis said … different community engagement events like this, those are the types of things that we need in the community to keep encouragement and to keep the hope alive within our youth,” Collins said.
“It’s a good experience and it’s an honor to be out here with regular, everyday, ordinary individuals,” she went on to say.
Collins, alongside Kevin Fitzgerald, set up a table at the block party and worked to get signatures for a Medicaid expansion petition.
Rebecca Smith-McCloud, Gary Willis’ niece who lives in the 21st Ward, was at the party also. She said having common unity with one another what was made the neighborhood stronger.
“This is what we do, and in order to actually build and keep our community our community we have to embrace and love our community. We can’t be afraid of one another within our community. We have to see each other as one,” McCloud said.
Gary Willis said he looked forward to making the block party bigger and better every year, with hopes of getting more people involved and even inspiring other neighborhoods to create something just as special.