Black/Latino Unity Picnic organizers Alex Gillis and Clarissa Pearson

Yesterday’s get-together at Penn Park was one of those unique, diverse events where people from all walks of life came together to celebrate African American and Latino cultures. For the organizers, the 10th Annual Black-Latino Unity Picnic was an exciting time. Did they see more of the usual suspects at this annual event or was it new faces?

“It’s a little weird this year,” organizer Clarissa Pearson tells Madison365. “Obviously, there are regulars who are from the neighborhood and come to the event every year and are really familiar faces but I’d say that there are definitely new faces and I keep asking folks: ‘How did you hear about us?’

The feature article in Madison365, right?

“Oh, yes. Of course,” Pearson laughs. “But it’s just great to see faces that are both familiar and new.”

The theme for the 10th Annual Black-Latino Unity Picnic, held on Sunday, Aug. 26 at the newly remodeled Penn Park on Madison’s south side, was “Building Towards a United Front.” It was a unique chance for community members to come together to support black and Latino workers looking for better working, housing, employment and living conditions in Madison neighborhoods.

Pearson’s partner in crime in organizing this event for the past 10 years has been Alex Gillis. Pearson and Gillis started the picnic a short time after attending a black and Latino summit in Los Angeles around 2008. Gillis told Madison365 that every year is different for the Black/Latino Unity Picnic and they never know what to expect.

“Sometimes there are topics that are more predominant in the discussion and sometimes not,” Gillis says. “I’m really enjoying the picnic this year. The community is really supporting us and we have this great space to have conversations. We really designed the event to be open to whatever the dynamics people bring and do. If at the end of the day, we sit down and eat together, that’s great.”

At the event, local black and Latino (and some white) community members enjoyed music, dances, free food, and children activities. It’s a very unique event in Madison.

“There’s nothing that really brings the black and Latino populations together in this city like this event,” he says. “I love it. It’s fun.”

What were people talking about at the event?

“People have been telling me that this is something that is really needed with the climate we are in right now,” Pearson says. “Earlier today we had a discussion after we listened to two spoken word poets and we discussed it. I think some people were a little apprehensive at first to discuss some of the topics but then different people started sharing how it resonated with them and they really opened up. We definitely still have difficult topics when blacks and Latinos get together, but I think everybody knows it’s a safe space here.”

Hall of Iconic Pictures at the 10th annual Black/Latino Unity Picnic

Beyond the food and music and kids’ activities and entertainment, the 10th Annual Black-Latino Unity Picnic had a Hall of Pictures on display signifying the black and Latino struggle.

“We have brought together different iconic pictures from both communities,” Gillis said. “These are just wonderful pictures.”

Every year, Gillis and Pearson try to bring something a little bit different to the Annual Black-Latino Unity Picnic. Pearson still remembers that first one.

Bikers have fun at the 10th annual Black/Latino Unity Picnic at Penn Park.

“I was very nervous for that first one. We had a big turnout and we almost couldn’t handle it,” she says. “It helped us to be able to say, ‘Let’s do this again!’ We got really great feedback from that first one.”

Ten years in the books, are Pearson and Gillis already looking towards the next decade of Black-Latino Unity Picnics?

“Sure thing. Why not? But I’m pretty tired right now,” Pearson smiles. “We need to get some of these younger people involved in organizing this for the next 10 years.”