ELKHART — Two months after tensions arose on West Garfield Avenue, organizers hope a Labor Day weekend festival on the south side of Elkhart can be another step in improving relations with law enforcement.
Police, fire and the Indiana National guard will be participating in the Southside Family Fun Fest Sunday, Aug. 31 at Roosevelt Park, according to organizers.
What started out as a small barbecue contest has blossomed into a full-fledged Labor Day weekend festival that some organizers said they’d like to see happen every year forward.
The event will run from about 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“It’s gonna be a great day for the south side,” said Robert Taylor, one of the organizers.
The festival will include a live music stage in front of a large Jumbotron video screen where karaoke, a gospel music tribute and talent contest are planned.
Games and other activities for children are also planned.
The event is sponsored by My Hood Needz Me and organized by various groups with an interest in the city’s south side.
Elkhart Police will have elements of its Night Out Against Crime program at the event, according to Taylor and Jason Moreno, a community organizer with LaCasa, Inc.
The fire department will bring its safety trailer. Representatives of the Indiana National Guard are also expected to participate.
Taylor and others are confident the upcoming holiday weekend will mark a stark contrast to the last holiday weekend – the Fourth of July – when an attack on an Elkhart police officer sparked complaints afterward of police harassment and retaliation.
What followed has been eight weeks of criticism and reflection capped Friday by an announcement from Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore that he intends to make changes to improve police relations with south central residents.
Taylor said he thinks the attack on an officer and the simmering emotions afterward were an isolated incident that doesn’t accurately reflect the community.
The timing of the festival, Taylor said, could not be better.
“This event can boost the morale in the community (and) show that we can still come together after a situation,” Taylor said.
A presence by police and other authorities is welcomed, he said, because it will represent a side of the police that the community wants to see.
Ironically, the sound stage will be located in the southwest part of Roosevelt Park at the corner of Prairie Street and Garfield Avenue, just half a block away from where tensions arose eight weeks ago.
Contestants in the barbecue event who pay a $25 entry fee will begin cooking as early as 7 a.m.
Samples will be sold beginning about 3 p.m. and proceeds from those sales will go towards the purchase of equipment needed for a proposed Friday night movie program at the Historic Roosevelt Center that could begin later this year, according to Moreno.
Aside from serving as a fund raiser, Taylor said they ultimately want to create a family-oriented event that could serve as an attraction for the entire community.
Organizers said they have about 15 booths reserved for the festival and have room for more.
There’s also room for more cook off contestants. To learn more, call Taylor at 226-4328.
Many of the vendors will have crafts and represent various non-profit groups, Taylor said.
Karaoke is scheduled to start from the beginning of the festival, followed by a gospel music tribute to the late Elkhart fireman, Michael Hadley.
A talent contest is also planned and organizers lined up the support of radio station WSMK, 99.1.