Spokane, Wash. – All day long, a parade of dancers, singers, musicians and other storytellers, often clad in costumes of their ancestors, perform on a stage at the foot of Riverfront Park’s clock tower. Neighbors of all ages applaud for them while others roam the park to meet community vendors and learn about diverse cultures, local educational and career opportunities, and various health topics.
This is Unity In the Community (UIC), the region’s largest multicultural celebration. This summer, UIC is celebrating “20 Years Together.” For the past two decades, community volunteers have come together to help promote unity by showcasing diversity in a daylong festival on the third Thursday of every August.
This year’s event, sponsored by United Healthcare, is 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 16, at Riverfront Park in downtown Spokane. Organizers say this will be the biggest year in UIC’s history, as the event will take up more space in the park, distribute more school supplies to children and provide more opportunities for fun learning.
“In our 20th year, we have partnered with more local companies than ever before to offer free school supplies to at least 1,000 kids,” said this year’s UIC Co-chair Mareesa Henderson. That will be 200 more bags of school supplies than were given out at last year’s event. “Unity In the Community is truly an event to attend all day with such variety that the entire family will walk away with fun prizes and new education that will enrich their lives.”
To honor UIC’s mission to sustain as a vital, viable community resource for youth, adults and families for the betterment of Northwest diverse communities, the steering committee chose this year to give a $2,000 “Gift of Unity” to a nonprofit organization. “Another way we decided to commemorate our 20th year is to give to another local nonprofit with similar values and beliefs as Unity In the Community,” Henderson said. “We strive to strengthen partnership and collaboration among diverse communities, and we want to give a helping hand to an organization doing the same.” Followers of UIC’s Facebook page were invited to nominate their favorite nonprofits. The steering committee will review the nominations to announce the winner at a later date.
Co-chair April Anderson had more to say about what will make the 20th year more special. “We are giving away bike helmets with fittings, we redesigned our website (www.nwunity.org) to make it more user-friendly, we changed sponsorship levels to enhance value for the sponsors who make our event possible, and we are promoting Unity In the Community merchandise online,” she said.
UIC started small, growing each year to attract more than 10,000 to the event. Pastor Lonnie Mitchell Sr. of Bethel AME Church in Spokane is credited with founding UIC.
“In 1994, during the time we were planning for the church year, several of us sensed that there was a lot of fragmentation in the Spokane community,” Mitchell said. “There was more ethnic diversity here than people knew about but people weren’t coming together. These racial and cultural barriers seemed to hinder growth and development in Spokane. We felt it was very important for people to know the strength of diversity in Spokane and for people of different cultures and races to understand each other. So the Unity in the Community celebration at Liberty Park was born.”
In 2004, with Mitchell’s urging, AHANA agreed to take on the responsibility and liability of running UIC and to continue its mission. Two years later, it was determined the annual event had grown in popularity to the point it had outgrown Liberty Park. The logistics of increasing attendance and vendors in the small park posed safety issues and wheelchair accessibility concerns. It was time for UIC to stretch its legs at the larger, more centrally located Riverfront Park so that it could continue to grow and focus on outreach and education. UIC has welcomed large crowds at Riverfront Park since the 2007 event.
Within the first two months of each year, while snow and freezing temperatures are the norm, a steering committee comprised of local volunteer community and business leaders, and organizers with a variety of talents gather at Community-Minded Enterprises, 25 W. Main, to begin collaboratively planning for the August event.
The steering committee assures there is something for everyone in five key areas to visit at UIC: Youth Fair, Career and Education Fair, Health Fair, Early Learning Fair, and General Vendors.
One of the most popular features of the day is the Cultural Village, sponsored by Community Health Plan of Washington, within the Youth Fair. Children are presented “passports” to take from one country’s or culture’s booth to another, where members of our community exhibit languages, clothing, jewelry, animals, textiles, food, holidays, traditions, geography and more. The passports are stamped at each booth. After children have visited every booth, those who will be entering kindergarten to eighth grade are invited to pick up a bagful of free school supplies.
The Youth Fair also includes a petting zoo, obstacle courses, jumping castle, a scavenger hunt for teens, and an area where little ones can play with blocks, balls and bubbles or take part in a story time. U.S. Army Recruiting will provide vehicles so that children can explore and learn how our armed forces protect and defend our country.
For more information about Unity In the Community, visit www.nwunity.org.
Media Contact: Pat Spanjer, Unity In the Community Communications Committee Chair Phone: 509.951.0329