By Joel Hall
When it began four years ago, Riverdale's fall festival served as a response to the gang violence that was plaguing the city and crested with the shooting death of 4-year-old Travon Wilson.
Now, it has become city's largest annual event.
On Sunday, Oct. 28, from 2-7 p.m., the Fourth Annual Riverdale Community Fall Festival will take place at Travon Wilson Memorial Park. This year's event will include a canned food drive for Feed My People Community Food Bank and will feature guest radio personality, SiMan Baby from Atlanta's 102.5 FM.
"I think the fall festival was very important to begin the process of community building," said Iris Jessie, Riverdale city manager. "This really was a way to give the citizens something positive. [The festival] has come to be expected and it [has been] an impetus for other community-wide events."
Riverdale City Councilman Kenny Ruffin, who has been one of the event's main organizers, said more professional talent will be featured this year, including performances by Leah Angela Curry, lead singer for the Mississippi Mass Choir, Taurus, an Atlanta-based female R&B trio, and Tyna Q, a Latin teen singing sensation.
In addition, there will be a "Riverdale Apollo" talent contest, complete with a "Sandman" character to eliminate unwanted acts; a dance contest; a DJ battle; carnival games; a costume contest; clowns; pony rides; face-painting; moon walks; step-show performances, and a variety of food vendors.
The event will conclude with the choice of a movie in the park, or a free skate event at Buster's Fun Factory on Highway 85 in Riverdale.
"The idea behind those different talents is that we have something for everybody," said Ruffin. "The whole idea is for people to bring their whole family out. It's exceeded our expectations, because each year, there have been more citizens involved in planning it."
Cynthia Stamps-Jones, an elementary school counselor and a long-standing volunteer, said the first festival took place in the parking lot of Buster's Fun Factory on Highway 85 in Riverdale. This year, Jones said that the city would honor the roller skating rink's owner, Buster Kato. The rink will be closed at the end of the year and replaced by a car dealership.
"The park was not available to do [the festival] then," said Jones. "[The festival] originated [at Buster's] and so we thought that it would be good to honor him for his work in the community. He's always been a part of the planning process," Jones added.
"To have the city honor me and the skating rink in that way is very fulfilling," said Kato. "I feel like we've gone through a period of time in Riverdale when it was very dark. A few years ago, a lot of kids had been shot. We have really worked hard, the city and I, to combat that image.
"It's a very strong validation that we had a strong impact on the community," he said.
Allyson Lewis, executive director of Feed My People, said the event is a morale booster for the city of Riverdale.
"It's always easy to read about in the newspapers and see on TV the bad things that are happening," said Lewis. "[The festival] makes for good citizenship. It makes people want to work when they see others working on their behalf."
The festival is free and open to the public. For more information, call (678) 789-2804.