Jamaica's culture and cuisine come to Hagerstown

August 22, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Godfrey McBean and his friends within Hagerstown's Jamaican community work without fanfare, more than willing to let their actions do the talking.

Saturday afternoon and evening, they will convert Wheaton Park into a celebration of Jamaican food and music, in the process raising funds to benefit Memorial Recreation Center.

Not that you'll hear McBean and the others puffing up their chests about the effort.

"They're modest, in that none of them would ever talk to you about it and they pretty much stay in the background," says McBean's fiancee and Recreation Center board member Alesia Parson. "They're just the types that believe in doing hard work for the things they believe in."


Entering its third year, the Jamaican Food and Music Festival introduces visitors to the culinary and cultural traditions of Jamaica. Though free to attend, the event is a fund-raiser for the Recreation Center, the West North Avenue destination for ages 5 to 18.

Providing recreational and educational activities for children, including Parson when she was younger, the center is a vital part of the community. Playing at the center keeps kids off the street and away from destructive behaviors, she says.

Supported by United Way funding, this weekend's event aims to provide more money to help the center fulfill its mission.

"It means a lot to the center and youth," says center executive director Ruth Monroe. "It just shows there are other cultures around with different foods. It just enlightens the youth about their surroundings."

Parson says there is a modest goal to raise $1,000, but every little bit helps for a community center that reaches beyond helping children to host wedding receptions, family reunions and sometimes church services.

"You can't measure what the center does because it saves lives," Parson says. "The center is not a place where the kids feel as though they have to go, the kids want to go."

Monroe agrees, and says she has met many new friends in the first two years of the festival.

Scheduled to begin at noon and end at dusk, Saturday's activities include Jamaican food, deejays spinning music and, new this year, a spades tournament for card players who feel up to the task. There will be door prizes throughout the day.

As much of a benefit as the festival provides the center, Monroe says it's just as vital that the community show their support for those staging the event.

"That way we can let the Jamaican people know somebody cares about their culture, too," she says.

Parson says she marvels at the efforts of McBean and the others who make the festival possible. They don't have to stage the festival but they do because they see how vital the center is to the community and want it to continue.

It is a goal that hasn't changed since the festival began in 2000, and one Parson says is more important now than ever.

"This center is more than just a recreation center, it's a thriving part of the community that has been here forever," she says. "(Saturday) is a day when you learn a little bit about Jamaican culture, a little bit about their food, but it's a fund-raiser pure and simple, and the center needs funds more today than it did three years ago."

If you go . . .

Third annual Jamaican Food and Music Festival, to benefit Memorial Recreation Center

Saturday, Aug. 24

Noon to dusk

Wheaton Park

North and Sumans Avenues


Free admission; donations accepted.

For information, call 301-824-7584 or 301-790-0203.

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