Pittsfield celebrates diversity at Gather-In
Photo Gallery | 2014 Gather-In at Pitt Park
PITTSFIELD -- Channeling Frederick Douglass' "Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro," sixth-grader-to-be Shanyse-Yasmine Reed brought dozens to applause when she let ring, "I argue with you that the slave is a man," at Gather-In at Pitt Park on Saturday.
Powerful words from a 10-year-old.
Paragraph by paragraph, person by person, the crowd read 10 pages of the classic manifesto at the event's close. Many shined, including Reed, a recent graduate of Williams Elementary School.
"I was happy to be doing it, even though I was scared to be up there," Reed said. "The words were hard but I love them."
Before and after her, others recited classic lines.
"What," one read, "to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: A day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim."
Another followed, "The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism a sham, your humanity a base pretense and your Christianity as a lie."
Progress since then aside, Dr. Don Quinn Kelley, co-chairman of the city's Lift Ev'ry Voice festival, preceded the collective reading by speaking on the inequalities that still trouble American life.
Despite the passage of years, Kelley was able to call for the same thing as Douglass -- equal treatment under the law -- in a country where African-Americans and Hispanics comprise 58 percent of the prison population but only 30 percent of the population.
"We are misjudged by many of our white fellow citizens," Kelley said. "For the misdemeanors of a few, they judge the many. Anyone that is fair-minded knows this to be wrong.
"All I can ask is that the treatment which is true from one man to another be accorded to me. When justice is practiced towards us, there is no need for special legislation for our race."
Saturday's Gather-In was part of a decades-long tradition that the Berkshire County chapter of the NAACP began 42 years ago. The newly restructured organization assumed leadership of Gather-In two years ago from the Westside Neighborhood Resource Center which had held the event the past several years. It is the only traditional African-American neighborhood festival in the Berkshires.
Hundreds cycled in and out of the six-hour-long event, which included sport, music, song and dance, as well as a host of causes from peace and justice to local schools and colleges and care for the needy.
Dennis Powell, chair of the local NAACP chapter's Education Policy Committee, said next year the organization seeks to recruit more young people in the organizing of the festival.
"We want it to go on for another 42 years," Powell said. "Next year, we want to see some young faces and minds helping us put this together. With that we truly can make sure to include activities for everyone. We're getting old up here. We need young people to step up so we can keep it running."
Powell also announced the date of next year's celebration as July 25.
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