BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Although the forecast called for rain, not a drop fell on the ninth annual James Weldon Johnson Community Library Literacy Festival Saturday, March 16.
The library grounds were teeming with activity, complete with African dancers, drum circles, face painting, moonwalks, music, food galore, and of course, free books for the children.
The event is put on each year to promote literacy and to get children involved and exposed to the library. It also strives to introduce the neighborhood to the library and its resources.
The history of the James Weldon Johnson Branch is typical of the Jim Crow South. Industrialist and business magnate Andrew Carnegie spent the latter part of his life dedicated to philanthropic projects such as building community libraries. He intended for the library he funded (Mirror Lake Branch) to be racially integrated when it opened in 1915, but the city refused black residents access.
In 1944, the city began allowing blacks into the basement of the downtown library. A local pastor and his wife formed an interracial committee and lobbied the city for funds to open a black library, and in 1947 the James Weldon Johnson Library opened in a leased space on Third Avenue South. It stayed there until 1979 when it was closed because of the impending destruction of the Gas Plant neighborhood to make way for the dome (Tropicana Field).
In 1981, the library was reopened in a space inside the Enoch Davis Recreation Center. The Friends of James Weldon Johnson Library was formed in 1989 to prevent the closing of the library due to cuts in city funds. The group circulated a successful petition to save the library and marched on City Hall. The library moved to its current location, 1035 Third Ave. S, in 2002.
Every year, Friends of James Weldon Johnson Library Vice President Kevin Johnson lines up festivalgoers for the Walk for Reading march. Families could be seen joined together marching down 18th Avenue South wearing bright orange t-shirts and repeating everything he belted out over the megaphone.
“Walk for Reading! Open a book! Readers are leaders!”
This year’s festival was lined with informational vendors and those selling their wares. Dr. Christopher Warren was out promoting the Bethel Community Foundation and their Truancy Intervention Program Service, which includes free access to licensed psychologists and therapists for children and families in need of help.
Funded by the state, the free program includes Anger Management classes, Active Parenting Parents and Children classes, Manhood Development and Female Life Skills classes.
To learn more about the program, call 727-866-2747.
Also on hand was the Epsilon Beta Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. conducting fun children activities while promoting their April 6 Youth STEMposium to introduced the young ones to science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning opportunities that are designed to support student academic growth.
The free workshop will be held at the St. Petersburg College Allstate Center from 9-2:30 p.m. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you missed the fun this year, next year promises to be even larger with more entertainment, vendors, food, and of course, books!