Unifying the community

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG –  The community came out by the hundreds to witness the late India Nicole Welch’s vision of unity. The inaugural Goodbye Fear, Hello Victory Unity Festival held at Gibbs High School last Sat., Jan. 9 was a resounding success.

“We are here because India Welch had a vision,” said former Mayor Rick Baker. “She had a vision for our community; she had a love for our community. She had a vision for what it could be and how it could be something better and different than it is today.”

India’s vision was to unite the community, and that she did. Old and young, black and white all conspired to make the festival a huge success.

“This is the vision of my middle baby,” said Pastor Ricardo Welch of Prayer Tower Church of God and Christ.  Her vision was to unite musicians, businesses, entrepreneurs and people in the community to come together and make it a better place to live.

“It doesn’t depend on your creed, your color, your culture, you domination or your affiliation, but we as God’s people coming together and showing that we can do more together than apart,” he said.

Pastor Welch remarked that the last conversation he had with India about the event was very inspiring. She said the main reason she was planning the festival was because she wanted to make God famous simply by doing what he commanded of us.

“His greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself. If we love everybody and we unify, we can do great things in the community, in the Tampa Bay area and it can spread beyond just this festival. I believe it can be universal,” he said.

Last August, India and her two sisters, La’Mour and Tehira, along with family friend, Antwayne Robinson, were killed in a tragic car accident on State Road 70 in Desoto County while traveling home from a religious convention. Months before that heartbreaking afternoon, however, India had already started planning for the festival.

When calling vendors and musicians to participate, event coordinator Donna Welch said India had already contacted most of them last July. She said India basically planned the event; they just had to set the date.

Proceeds from the festival will go into a scholarship fund so that India’s vision will continue on.

“She loved to sew into other people and give back to those who were coming up behind her,” said India’s close friend and marketing coordinator for the festival, Nicole Phillip. She added that Pastor Welch is building a committee that will handle the scholarship application process.

A huge proponent in supporting businesses in the black community, India had a mission called India Nicole Welch Supports where she would patronize local business and share pictures and her experiences on social media. When her followers saw #IndiaNicoleWelchSupports, they knew it was a trusted business.

At the festival, local businesses were in no shortage. From food and clothing to health and education services, more than 30 vendors were present.

Lillie Welch, La’Mour’s mother, and Darlene Welch, India’s and Tehira’s mother, were both present at the festival.

“What some view as a tragedy, it’s really God using them to bring people together,” said Lillie, who was charged with the task of keeping an eye on La’Mour’s three children: Jemil, Janiyah and Jaiel.

Also sitting front and center was Antwayne Robinson’s mother. Pastor Welch revealed that Antwayne told him hours before his death that he was going to marry India.

“I said, ‘we’ll talk about this when we get back home.’ As God would have it, they are together eternally,” said Pastor Welch.

Not even heavy rains could stop India’s vision from coming to life. Instead of going home, festival goers packed into Gibbs’ large cafeteria and continued the afternoon.

“I believe that right now they are shining and smiling down on us knowing that we have come together to not look at who we are and what we do, but we have come together to celebrate one cause, and that is to unify,” said Pastor Welch.

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