Home Madison 10th Annual Black/Latino Unity Picnic All About Finding Commonalities, Creating Community

10th Annual Black/Latino Unity Picnic All About Finding Commonalities, Creating Community

Hedi Rudd celebrates at Black/Latino Unity Picnic with kids.

This Sunday’s 10th Annual Black-Latino Unity Picnic at Penn Park is a get-together for the whole community that will be focused on the common struggle of black and Latino workers for better working, housing, employment and living conditions in Madison neighborhoods. The theme for the event, sponsored by the Immigrant Workers Union (IWU), will be “Building Towards a United Front.”

“We’re going to be back at Penn Park this year, so that’s really cool,” Clarissa Pearson tells Madison365. Pearson has coordinated the Black & Latino Unity Picnic with Alex Gillis since it first started in Madison in 2009. “We’re going to be focusing on the different things that are happening in both of our communities and addressing those issues. We’ve noticed over the past year and a half that people on both sides are not seeing eye to eye and they are getting caught up about what’s been told in the media and not the truth.

Dancers get ready to perform at the Black/Latino Unity Picnic in 2016.

“It’s been difficult to unite both groups because both groups are facing problems of their own,” Pearson continues. “So we want to bring both groups together to find out how we can work together and look at the many commonalities that we have.”

Pearson says that she was putting up posters for the Black/Latino Unity Picnic last week at a local restaurant and somebody was jokingly worried about whether there would be conflict at the event.

“They said, ‘Are they going to put knives and guns in the middle and then let people go at it?’” Pearson remembers. “They were joking, but I felt bad that this is where we are at and how some people may think.”

That’s why this event is so important.

“Everybody has a story, and it’s so much better when they get to talk face to face rather than have somebody – perhaps incorrectly – tell their story,” Pearson says. “This is a great way of coming together no matter what and not letting the system divide us.”

The Black/Latino Unity Picnic is an event for the whole community, focusing on the common struggle of black and Latinos. The event is part of an overall grassroots effort to promote unity and collaboration between the black and Latino communities.

Alex Gillis and Clarissa Pearson at an early Black/Latino Unity Picnic
(Photo by A. David Dahmer)

Gillis and Pearson started the picnic a short time after attending a black and Latino summit in Los Angeles around 2008. Does Pearson remember that first picnic they hosted in Madison?

“Oh, my God. Vaguely. I remember I was very nervous and a little scared … and there were so many people who wondering how this is going to work,’ she says. “The police showed up and people began to figure out that, ‘Wow, this is actually a pretty good event.’ They were surprised. Things went well.”

Every year since, the Black/Latino Unity Picnic has been a chance to catch up with friends and to enjoy music, dances, free food, and children activities. This year, there will once again be information and resources available from local non-profits.

(L-r) Joe Maldonado, Eric Upchurch, Jackie Hunt, Marcus Miles, and Rissel Sanderson celebrate at a previous Black/Latino Unity Picnic.

“We have great entertainment … and people really love that,” Pearson says. “But what we’ve been doing more and more is having a list of issues each community is facing across the board and have people vote on that. What we’re planning to do is to talk about the top two or three issues and, hopefully, the plan is to break people into groups to talk about it and then come together and report out from each group.”

Sometimes when they’ve done this at past picnics, Pearson says, it has gone really, really well. “That’s definitely something that we want to do this year again – is to fill our barometer of different social issues in the community,” she says.

What doe Pearson like the best about the annual Black/Latino Unity Picnic?

“I love seeing faces that I haven’t seen in a while and new faces that I’ve never seen before,” she says. “I love to see people meeting each other and talking to each other real. Everyday people clarifying stereotypes they may have heard about other groups and also talking about commonalities. And it’s cool for me to reach out to the people who may not normally get to go to a lot of events in the Madison area because they aren’t free like this one is.”

Community members celebrate at a previous Black/Latino Unity Picnic at Penn Park.

The 10th annual Black/Latino Unity Picnic is free and family friendly … and it’s for everybody.

“Even if you don’t identify with being black or Latino, you are still invited,” Pearson says. “It’s all about the community. There’s no way we can continue to do this if we’re not all learning from each other.”

The 10th Annual Black-Latino Unity Picnic titled “Building Towards a United Front” will be held Sunday, Aug. 26, 1-5 p.m. at Penn Park, 2101 Fisher St.