'There has to be unity in the community': NAACP hosts Pittsfield's 43rd Gather-In


Photo Gallery | 2016 Gather-In neighborhood festival

PITTSFIELD — It was as good a day as any the summer is likely to offer to gather in.

Amid basketball tournaments and slam dunk contests, live music, barbecue, readings of poetry and pieces by Martin Luther King Jr., family time and memories of a well-known local family, the 43rd annual Gather-In benefitted from sunny, hot weather and an eager, happy crowd.

It marked the first time the event was held in the former Pitt Park since its renaming several months ago to Durant Park, in honor of prominent community advocates the Rev. Willard and Rosemary Durant.

"[Reverend Willard Durant] was one of the first people who welcomed me and my wife when we first moved here in 1993, and was that for a lot of people," said Westside Neighborhood Resource Center Chairman Manny Slaughter.

Increasingly a focus of the Gather-In, education and literacy among young people proved a focal point of the discussion at the park on Saturday.

"We all know the importance of education and the difference it makes in our lives," said Youth Alive Director and Pittsfield Public Schools Cultural Proficiency Coach Shirley Edgerton in presenting seven $200 stipends to community youth headed for college. "I want you to know that it doesn't end here. The education committee [of the local NAACP] has developed a program where these same seven young people will receive care packages during the year in that stressful time when you're taking tests."

She added, "You don't know that yet, but it's pretty stressful."

Dennis Powell, president of the Berkshire chapter of the NAACP, said he hopes to grow the stipend program — funded by Greylock Federal Credit Union — to one day include all Pittsfield students headed to college.

Last year, five stipends were given and Saturday increased the number by two.

"Next year, hopefully we'll give even more," Powell said. "It's important for them to see that the community really wants them to succeed."

Slaughter, meanwhile, talked about the YMCA/Marilyn Hamilton Literacy-Sports Program, which he helps run, held Monday through Thursday at Durant Park and Conte Community School.

Powell spoke to the tradition of the event and what it seeks to accomplish.

"What's significant today is the fact that we come together in solidarity as a community for something that's really good and has a long standing among its residents," Powell said. "We're able to come together in unity and celebrate the diversity of our community. It usually coincides with family reunions and summer vacations, so you see a lot of people you rarely get to see."

The NAACP started the Gather-In 43 years ago and took over running it once again three years ago.

"My parents and elders passed [the Gather-In] down to me, and we're starting to pass on aspects of it to the younger folks," Powell said. "It's a generational thing, and soon it will be theirs."

"We're building healthy relationships here," Slaughter said. "You see grandparents, children, teenagers all coming together. There has to be unity in the community, especially with all the violence going on."

He added, "There couldn't be a better time to be in this safe haven together."

As Powell later presented the scholarships, he said to the students on stage, "It doesn't get any better than this. Congratulations, be well and keep in touch."

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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