Community members support youth at Roots & Heritage Festival
Tamara Jordan, Larry Johnson and Rabbi Shlomo Litvin were part of the crowd strolling Elm Tree Avenue during the Roots & Heritage Festival Saturday night, but they had a deeper purpose than enjoying the food, music and vendors.
Each, clad in orange shirts pulled from their closet, was hoping to support the young people in attendance and help promote peace in the midst of rising gun violence in Lexington.
“There are so many bad ways to deal with a volatile situation,” Litvin said. “I’m always happy to be part of one of the good ones.”
Devine Carama, director of ONE Lexington, a city program that works to prevent gun violence among teens and twenty-somethings, had sent an email blast earlier in the week, asking community members to come out to the festival Saturday between 9 p.m. and midnight to engage with young people. His goal was to have 100 men and women out in orange shirts on Elm Tree Lane.
“We understand many young people will be on the Elm Tree Lane strip, especially Saturday night. With so many potential conflicts going on in the city, many personal, youth often utilize large gatherings to engage those they may have issues with,” Carama wrote. “Our wonderful police and sheriff departments will be there to patrol and enforce, but I think it would be great for the community to come out and support their efforts by being a presence, engaging, monitoring and building with the young people that will be attending.”
Carama said in an interview Saturday night that “conflict is at an all-time high,” and there have been a few incidents at high school sports events this year.
But, he said, if young people see an adult they know and respect at a public event, they may “second guess before engaging in something.”
“It’s not all on police,” he said. “The community has to step up.”
”I’m here to have a presence because I think it’s a deterrent,” Johnson said. “They know some of us who’ve been working in the community for years. They respect us.
“Most of our young people appreciate being supported by the adults in the community.”
By wearing orange, he said, volunteers would be more easily identifiable.
“They know who they can go to if something’s going on,” Johnson said.
“I forgot we’re playing Florida tonight,” Carama had said with a grin earlier in the evening.
Carama said his hope was that the community members’ “informal” presence would not only help stave off potential conflicts but also build rapport between youth and elders.
Jordan said she didn’t know many of the young people at the festival Saturday night, and she doubted they knew what her orange shirt stood for, but as soon as she heard about Carama’s plan, she said she knew she wanted to be a part of it.
“Our community is in such bad turmoil,” Jordan said. She said she wanted to make sure kids know “they are valued and loved.”
“Our kids are our future, and they need direction,” she said.
Carama said he was encouraged by the response he got Friday night, when he said about 50 people showed up, even though he hadn’t asked community members to come until Saturday.
This is the first time the Roots & Heritage Festival has been held in person since 2019. Because of COVID, the festival was canceled in 2020 and was held in a virtual format in 2021.
The festival’s website says it continues Sunday.