FAIRGROUND PARK – Unity and economics.
Those two black community directives took center stage Saturday along with the honoring of a local civil rights icon and an 11-year-old keynote speaker at the inaugural Unity Festival and Marketplace (U-FAM) in Fairground Park.
Honored was longtime activist and former ACTION chair Percy Green II.
He’s known for his notorious climb up the Gateway Arch (1964) during its construction as well as his protest of the old Bank and Trust Co. (1963). Both protests were against racially inequitable hiring practices.
Coincidentally, through ACTION, an improvement committee for blacks, he was also founder of Afro Day in the Park. It too was held at Fairground Park from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s.
Afro Day promoted black pride, self-sufficiency and unity amid racial attitudes that equaled indignity, oppression and disparity.
It was also Fairground Park where the race of riot of 1949 went down. The first municipal pool in the city of St. Louis – opening in 1904 – it was deemed integrated, sparking the riot, 45 years later.
In response, then-Mayor Joseph Darst returned it to segregated status. It wasn’t until a year later, in 1950, that the park pool was federally integrated.
Pickets and protests eventually prevailed.
“When we developed this program, we thought about this particular location and the historical significance and we thought about having a person to come here to speak. One name rose to the top,” said D.C. Cooper, emcee of the event and U-FAM member, who also performed one of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches.
“This man has dedicated his life to making a difference in our community, and we are so honored to be here in his presence,” Cooper went on.
Green prefaced his speech to the light audience by asking for a moment of silence for Norman R. Seay and Raymond Howard, both of whom protested alongside him during the Jefferson Bank protest. Seay passed away last month and Howard in August.
“Both of them were jailed during the 1963 protests at Jefferson Bank for jobs, and I spent time in jail unjustifiably, and you need to know that,” Green said to the mixed-age crowd, urging them to “Google those two names and read up on their contributions to the movement.”
Green then urged festival goers to vote. He included those with arrest records, like himself, pointing to a voter registration booth and telling them to make sure they vote after being registered.
He also implored them to stay engaged and to respect unions.
“We need to do something between the times that we vote, and that means we have to utilize some other form of disruption for educating the public,” he said. He explained, “Some people feel as if the only time they can be educated is when the politicians are running for office.”
He suggested subscribing to the “Boo Crew,” explaining that the Boo Crew was at least two people who witness racism or any other similar activity and then boo.
Quite appropriately and to the contrary, Joshua Danrich, the young entrepreneur and animated keynote speaker, drew applause and sales of his product. He’s the owner of Mr. Fresh Air Freshener and Deodorizers for vehicles, homes and fabrics.
Always fresh on cars, at age 10 he told his mother (and now manager) that he wanted to open an automobile dealership. When she explained that he was too young at the time, he parlayed his desire into a business that would keep cars, and his dream, fresh.
During his spirited keynote address, Joshua told festival goers that he would take the lead in teaching and inspiring other youths to follow in his footsteps, and he appealed to adults to do their fair share.
“I am paving the way for my generation and more to come,” the 11-year-old inspirational speaker said. “I am leading by example. I want others to know that if I can do it, so can you.”
Calling on his elders, who applauded his sentiments, he continued, “I cannot do this alone. The only way I can accomplish my mission is if the communities, villages and people help me rescue my generation.”
Festival founder Robert Green smiled proudly as he sat near the young boy’s booth.
“Those are his products – he should not leave here with products today,” Green emphasized after taking the stage, pointing toward Joshua’s table of bottled air fresheners and deodorizers.
Green pointed out that African-Americans residents patronized shops owned and operated by members of other ethnic groups, and he urged blacks to buy from other blacks.
Green also pushed his own product, U-Fam water, which sells for one dollar.
“We need to come together and unite economically, socially and politically.”
U-FAM is a coalition of black organizations, businesses and individuals. Their mission is to create opportunities, activities, programs, services and events that increase levels of participation, support and growth of black businesses.