IM this article to a friend!

February 23, 2003

Diverse crowd turns out for Cultural Heritage Celebration

Naples Daily News, FL - 23 Feb 2003


NAPLES - While a local church group sang from its soul to a crowded courtyard in River Park, Anthony Denson sat in his chair with his straw hat and soaked in the sun.

Nestled between two food vendors, he watched as people of all colors walked by in shorts and T-shirts. There were whites, Hispanics, Haitians, Canadians and Asians in the predominately black neighborhood Saturday, something Denson isn't used to seeing.

But he would like to see more of it.

"It's a diverse crowd," Denson said. "It's a lot different then what you see on rap videos or "Cops." We're not all getting arrested. Americans have a distorted view of the black man in America."

The Naples Cultural Heritage Celebration is held every year to try and change that view. On Saturday, the outskirts of the River Park Community Center on Eleventh Street North was transformed into a small carnival-like atmosphere without the rides. Church and school choirs performed to audiences, as well as nationally known blues singer Whop Frazier, and local organizations sold arts and crafts like magnets and kitchenware.

The River Park area Girl Scout troop asked passers-by for Caribbean recipes to put into their cookbook, while local cooks shared their own recipes and mouth-watering food with customers.

People had the opportunity to try Caribbean and Italian food for lunch and dinner. Homemade desserts were sold in sandwich bags for $1 and River Park neighbors sold blue crab soaked in garlic butter and bags of hard-boiled eggs.

River Park Community Center Director James Whittaker was pleased with the festival, which was expected to have attracted 1,000 people by Saturday evening.

"It's been so perfect, it's like a blessing from heaven," Whittaker said, while the audience applauded a local church group.

Kiera Morgan, 12, was one of the people standing on stage when people clapped and whistled for the Hands of Praise group from Unity Faith Missionary Baptist Church. The group of teens danced and mouthed the words to contemporary gospel music while also using sign language.

Morgan started the group soon after she met a friend who was deaf. Morgan learned sign language and then taught her friends, who decided to combine the skills with their dance and music.

"We want to get the point across that Jesus is everything," she said. "It is really fun."

Canadian couple Dennis Aubin, 61, and Suzanne Murray, 59, decided to spend their afternoon trying new foods and listening to music they said they hadn't heard before.

The couple vacations in Naples and said they were lured to this festival because the word "cultural" was in the title. Every city needs cultural events like this one, they said.

"I was curious about the people and the eating," Suzanne Murray said. "It's very important to see how other people live and speak."

Whittaker said the festival's purpose was to give people of all colors and all races an understanding of different cultures, and he believes people left the festival understanding that.

"We're all the same," Whittaker said, "but just different shades."

Copyright © 2003 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved.