The message is unity — and Winter Park is ready to let it ring loud and clear.
An annual celebration of family and unity is coming once again as the city of Winter Park hosts the 17th annual Unity Heritage Festival Sunday, Jan. 20, and Monday, Jan. 21. The event takes place at Shady Park in Hannibal Square — at the intersection of Pennsylvania and New England avenues. The event promotes family heritage and raises money for the city’s Educational Fulfillment Fund to benefit local economically disadvantaged youth.
Sunday’s festivities will include children’s games, career booths, food and retail vendors, and a heath and wellness tent promoting awareness of diseases and health issues, along with job training and financial literacy by the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Nu Iota Omega Chapter. Attendees looking to get their gospel fix also will have a chance to enjoy music by artists Heath King and Veronica Stephens.
The fun continues Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with a special program honoring King’s legacy, a historical skit in partnership with the Hannibal Square Heritage Center, and food and music by the band LUVU and CeCe Teneal & Soul Kamotion.
Event planner Robert Knight has organized the event for 17 years and said he has seen the event bring together friends and family every time.
“The biggest part of it is really the community camaraderie,” Knight said. “What we’ve found is this is like a West Side family reunion. A lot of families that have been a part of this event for 17 years find it as a great event for them to come back and see what’s happening in the community, see some of the historical information that we’ve been able to put together over at the Heritage Center and also enjoy the music. It’s really a way to bring our community together and celebrate the works of Dr. Martin Luther King and live out his dream.”
The historical aspect is a major piece of what sets the event apart, and that’s where the Hannibal Square Heritage Center comes in with its skits, Knight said. Many Hannibal Square residents played roles of their own during the Civil Rights movement and contributed to the cause in a unique way, he added.
“We’ve educated a lot of people on our forefathers by doing the feature family presentations, because people hear of the names … but our kids of today have no clue as to the makeup of the culture and communities that their families grew up in,” he said. “Our young people don’t understand the need for unity. Everybody is behind the buttons of their mobile phone, that’s as much as they know about their history until we lay it out for them and show them that. We hope people walk away with a sense of heritage from this event.”
The event not only is a celebration but also a chance for attendees to reflect on the importance of unity.
“You have a choice and you’ve got to stand up for what’s right, but also what we want people to walk away with is a form of unity,” Knight said. “The railroad tracks typically divide most cities from the black and white communities, and what we would hope is that after this event there’s a lot more hatred removed from the people thinking there’s a divide between color, and also finding a new relationship within the community of a person who’s from the other side of the tracks. We hope there are new relationships built between citizens of the entire city.”