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St. Petersburg's Juneteenth festival melds history, fun

Alex Gilliam, 9, plays cymbals Saturday with the Mount Zion drum line at Juneteenth in St. Petersburg’s Campbell Park.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Alex Gilliam, 9, plays cymbals Saturday with the Mount Zion drum line at Juneteenth in St. Petersburg’s Campbell Park.

ST. PETERSBURG — Singers sang, politicians politicked, and shady trees saved an appreciative crowd at Saturday's Juneteenth Family Festival in Campbell Park.

Organizers provided something for everyone, from carnival games to live music and activities geared to the event. Social service organizations set up shop in the park's south end, ready to pass out literature and line up their best talking points on crime, substance abuse, life coaching and jobs.

The event, hosted by Juneteenth St. Pete and co-sponsored by the city, joins in the county's oldest celebration of the end of slavery.

"It goes a little bit into the culture and the history," said Troi Owens, 36, a senior probation officer with the Department of Juvenile Justice. "Especially in this climate, with the economy and the crime in the community — it's a fun, family day."

In a picnic pavilion, Deja Hampton, 10, carefully glued leopard-patterned cloth onto a two-gallon plastic drum. She was making lots of drums, she said.

Nearby, volunteers Jacqueline Shelby, 43, and Linda Ponder, 57, wrapped a purple cloth around the heads of women and girls in line. Hair wrapping is religious in some cultures, fashionable in others, Ponder said.

Every wrap is different, and the volunteers tried several loops, twists and knot on Jill Waldman, 41, before giving up. The cloth kept slipping off.

They wrapped the same cloth in a cinnamon-bun swirl around the head of Waldman's 8-year-old daughter, Parker. This time, it was a perfect fit.

An all-day musical lineup kept the mood upbeat, from the drum line by Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church to recorded hip-hop and rhythm-and-blues handled by deejays.

Jazz pianist Alfred Sheppard and his N-Version Band dazzled the crowd in the finale. Sheppard, a 2009 Blake High graduate, is headed to the Berklee College of Music in the fall, where he has won a $20,000 scholarship for his playing and original compositions.

Word of the end of slavery, effective on Jan. 1, 1863, didn't reach some slaves for another 21/2 years — a detail emphasized in the Juneteenth program.

Most of today's young people don't know that history, said Juneteenth coordinator Faye Dowdell, 58. "That's why we keep trying," she said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2248.

St. Petersburg's Juneteenth festival melds history, fun 06/20/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 20, 2009 11:10pm]
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