Unity in the Community welcomed its biggest crowd in 13 years with thousands of people gathering in Riverfront Park Saturday to enjoy the food and entertainment, despite an earlier protest from some over the change in venue.
The local NAACP argued that moving from Liberty Park would take away an event that belonged to the community. But organizers and supporters said a Riverfront Park venue would open the event to more people and help spread diversity.
“If you show one person who didn’t intend to be here all the diversity there is in Spokane, then we’ve moved our community forward,” said Roberta Greene, a member of the Bethel AME church and one of the founders of Unity in the Community.
The day was a rewarding experience for Greene.
“It was more of a picnic and now to all of a sudden see this … my heart is full,” she said. A huge American flag waved in the distance as those around her watched one of the multicultural performances on stage.
The event drew 8,000 to 10,000 people, said Ben Cabildo, chairman for the event. He said he was very happy about the turnout, a huge increase from last year’s 3,000.
“It shows the decision to move to Riverfront Park is the best decision,” he said. “And people are enjoying themselves, which is the most important thing.”
The bigger space allowed for more vendors and displays. About 30 representatives from different health organizations offered information and screenings. Organizers wanted to put an emphasis on alternative medicine, so many holistic health vendors were present.
Across the grass, an education and career fair drew more than 25 participants. Three hundred children’s safety helmets and thousands of dollars in school supplies were given away to kids, said Cabildo.
Individual booths called cultural villages, which grew from 11 last year to 30, represented the Pacific Islands and countries including Norway, Finland, China, Mexico, Ireland and Laos.
Several members of the Harris family made it all the way around the world, getting their Unity in the Community passports stamped as they moved from booth to booth learning about the culture at each one.
Christina Harris said her family has been involved with Unity in the past, and her husband used to perform with one of the gospel groups. She praised the move.
“It was so crowded at Liberty (Park). I think this is the perfect place to have it,” she said. Harris said she was glad to see the event being embraced by everyone.
“It’s important for people to come together for the good of the community and not just one sect or ethnicity,” she said.
Loretta Fensley agreed that Riverfront is a much better location for Unity.
“It’s still got the same name and it’s still got the same purpose,” she said, clapping her hands and moving to the beat of the gospel singers on stage. “It’s community – if you want to be a part of it, you’ll do it.”
Fensley, who was raised in Spokane, said she takes her kids to the event every year but hadn’t known that this year the venue was different. After showing up at an empty Liberty Park, she found the new location.
Chris Lucht, a West Central resident, had no idea what he and his family were walking into.
They went to a school event at the Carrousel at 9 a.m. and found Unity at 10 a.m. They spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the fair and getting free stuff.
Carrying three bags of goods, including school supplies and safety helmets, Lucht said he was glad they had stopped by.
“It’s keeping the kids outside and active. It’s good for them,” he said as one of his sons rummaged through a toy bucket he won in a raffle.