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Festival spotlights island culture

August 24, 2004|by Alicia Notarianni

alician@herald-mail.com

Children danced in the pouring rain to the reggae beats pulsing from the pavilion at the Jamaican Festival on Saturday, Aug. 21, at Wheaton Park in Hagerstown.

Alesia Parson, 39, of Hagers-town, co-chairwoman of the event along with Ruth Monroe, also of Hagerstown, said the festival began five years ago when the Memorial Recreation Center at 109 W. North Ave. was in jeopardy of closing its doors due to financial hardship. The center is a nonprofit organization that provides educational and recreational programs for children.

Parson said a group of area residents of West Indies descent led by Godfrey McBean, Parson's fianc, recognized the importance of the Memorial Recreation Center to the community and decided to respond.

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"They thought they could kill two birds with one stone - bring Jamaican culture to the city and raise awareness and funds for the center," said Parson, who also is a community correspondent for The Daily Mail.

Each year at the festival, McBean and his friends set up vending booths marketing Jamaican wares and donate a portion of the proceeds to the Memorial Recreation Center.

McBean, 50, a resident of Hagers-town who moved to the United States from Jamaica in 1976, cooked Jamaican fare for this year's festival, including ox tails, curried goat, collard greens and red beans and rice.

"The kids are important," McBean said. "We gotta do what we gotta do for the community and keep kids off the street, you know."

Those who attended the afternoon festival were lured by tables full of mouthwatering fresh, plump fruits and vegetables and by the aroma trailing from the booth labeled LeRoy's original Jamaican jerk chicken.

David Lee of Chambersburg, Pa., and Jones Productions, based in Hagerstown, provided free DJ services, spinning ethnic tunes throughout the event.

While features such as a dunking booth and an inflatable moonwalk were canceled due to rain, children still danced, ate and frolicked in the rain with friends.

Jakerian Jones, 9, of Hagers-town, said he went to the festival last year and wanted to come back this year.

"I just like all the people," he said.

In addition to the festival's music, dancing, friendliness, food and a ticket raffle, vendors offered information about community resources. Sherry Norman and Sharall Turner from the child support division of the Washington County Department of Social Services shared information as they treated children to temporary tattoos, balloons and free school supplies. Debbie Pryor of The Parents' Place of Maryland distributed information for families of children with disabilities and special care needs.

Parson said the Memorial Recreation Center faces financial difficulty. A Community Focus Group has been working to address the strengths and needs of the center and has had a great outpouring of support.

"The center is managing to keep financially afloat," Parson said.

The Jamaican Festival was part of a two-day fund-raising effort for the center that began with a golf tournament on Friday. Parson said the weekend's events brought in more than $4,300, with some money still to be counted.

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