For the ninth year in a row, there will be a Black and Latino picnic to help celebrate unity, diversity and just plain old fun in the community.
This year’s event will take place on Sunday, August 27, at the Madison Labor Temple on 1602 South Park Street. The picnic will run from 1-5 p.m. and feature live music, food, family fun and important discussions.
With racial tensions as palpable as they have been in recent memory, it is as perhaps as important as ever to have communities of color come together to break bread with one another. But for Alex Gillis, who with his wife Clarissa Pearson founded and organize the event each year, these tensions are nothing new. And it doesn’t appear anyone will go out of their way to let frustrations about President Trump hijack a good time on a (hopefully) beautiful summer day.
“This year with what happened in Charlottesville, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s a topic people will choose,” Gillis tells Madison365. “We don’t know if people will be fired up. The picnic is open to the whole community so there is a wide range of issues. We are fired up. This stuff is not just happening this week, it’s been happening for awhile.”
Gillis and Pearson started the picnic a short time after attending a Black and Latino summit in Los Angeles around 2008.
“We did a Black/Latino summit in L.A. and were excited to spread the idea out here,” Gillis said. “We decided to do one picnic and then decided to do it every year. We think it’s important to have this space and create a space to be together. This is just one of many initiatives around town, it’s not the only one. We have to create as many spaces as possible to foster dialogue, especially between Blacks and Latinos. Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the traps of the media where Black and Latinos are pitted against each other on different sides.”
This year they are anticipating the atmosphere will be a little bit different at the Labor Temple instead of the past events at Penn Park. Penn Park is undergoing construction so the picnic was forced into a new venue.
“This is our first year doing in the Labor Temple,” Gillis said. “Being out in the middle of a neighborhood was a good thing at Penn Park in the heart of Madison’s south side. People being able to smell the food and things like that. But in the Labor Temple, we might also have different demographics and a different vibe.”
The 9th annual Black/Latino Unity Picnic will have food, Mexican dancing, a jumping house and face-painting for the kids. They will also have an open mic discussion where people break into small groups and discuss community topics.
“People talk in the groups about topics we’ve identified that folks have on their minds,” Gillis said. “So in the beginning of the picnic, we have people vote for the topics. During the event, we have people give examples of how things affect them like unemployment, health care.”
Gillis says with all that is going on around the country today, he believes the unity picnic will be popular and expects a large showing.
“We just want to spread the word and have people remember it’s at the Labor Temple not Penn Park this year. Everyone is welcome, this is not just for Blacks and Latinos,” he says.
Volunteers are also needed to help with food and set-up. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Alex Gillis at 608-345-9544.