By Errol Castens
TUPELO – It was the definition of “something for everyone.”
The annual Communities Forward Festival at Gumtree Park arrived with a parade, launched with music and prayer, and went on to attract kids to inflatable bouncy play structure, older folks visiting in the shade, teens and younger adults soaking up a variety of music and everybody sampling traditional festival food from sno-cones to hotdogs and barbecued chicken wings.
The focus, however, was community cooperation.
“In Tupelo, Mississippi, we need to come together and make a difference,” said emcee Charles Golden of WKIU radio.
“It’s a new day in Tupelo,” declared Mayor Jason Shelton. He lauded festival founder Nettie Davis, noting her position as the first black and the first female to serve as president of the Tupelo City Council.
Shelton said, “And I’m kind of proud that I’m the first mayor from the wrong side of the tracks” – a line that drew laughter and applause.
Davis thanked many city staffers and volunteers who helped plan and stage the event.
“I’m so proud to be part of this community,” she said.
Incoming Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre said he looks forward to a cooperative relationship with local residents.
“We want to work with the community,” he said. “We’ve got an open-door policy.”
It wasn’t only government-and-citizen relations that were being revived.
Norma Derring was one of many people promoting community helps. An eight-year breast cancer survivor, she was offering information about Sisters Network Inc., whose local chapter helps provide mammograms for black women who have no insurance.
Lynda Beverly was with several friends selling chili dogs at the Lively Hearts booth.
“We’re a seniors group that meets twice a month to have people come in and talk to us about issues of interest to older people,” she said. “This is a fund- raiser for our group that we do every year.”
Michael Sims said he brought his granddaughter because she wanted to play on the slide with other children.
“I’m seeing people here that I haven’t seen in years,” he added.
“Lil E” McPherson, 12, said he came with other members of Red Oak Grove M.B. Church.
Shanty DePriest said she was attending the event because “I was born and raised here. This is my community.” As she listened to music and bounced her granddaughter on her knee, she noted that Communities Forward is a place to renew friendships.
“It’s just everybody joining together, seeing each other, that brings me here,” she said.