Downtown Richmond shows its heart at Spirit and Soul Festival

Downtown Richmond Residents dancing at the 8th Spirit and Soul Festival.

Downtown Richmond Residents dancing at the 8th Spirit and Soul Festival.

About 800 Richmond residents and their children turned out for the 8th Annual Spirit and Soul Festival in historic downtown Richmond, held outside the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts last Saturday.

The idea behind the event, organized by the Richmond Main Street Initiative, is to “promote the area as a great place to come out and have a good time,” said Alicia Gallo, outreach coordinator for the organization.

Food vendors dished out burgers, french fries, hot dogs, all kinds of barbeque, margaritas, wine and beer, and musical acts by PUSH, Tia Carrol, Beaufunk with Michael Jefferies, and Soul Progressions brought the crowd to their feet.

Yvonne Motley, who has attended Spirit and Soul since its inception eight years ago, said she appreciated how the festival brought together people from a range of nationalities. “It’s really nice,” the 83-year-old said.

The festival “is a chance for the people of Richmond to see old friends, socialize and mingle,” said Frances Adams, who has been attending events organized by the Richmond Main Street Initiative for the past 15 years.

The festival aims to raise funds to support the organization’s efforts to improve downtown Richmond, said Gallo. Festival organizers also recognized five individuals with “Downtown Champion” awards for their contributions to the downtown community: Richmond Police Activities League Director Larry Lewis, Martin Realty owner Ermestine Martin, DP Security president Michael Davenport, and Michelle Milam and Mandy Swirsding of the Richmond Police Department Crime Prevention unit.

“My reward comes when I see the happy faces of Richmond residents and kids feeling safe and confident in their communities,” said Lewis, an officer who served in the force for 33 years. “We need to accentuate the positives of Richmond and we tend to not do that enough,” he said.

C J’s Barbeque and Fish owner Charles Evans said he appreciated that the festival was working to bring businesses back to downtown Richmond. Anita Gardyne, the founder and CEO of Oneva, a home-care referral business in the process of opening a branch in Richmond, said her grandfather, who moved to Richmond in 1942, opened a real estate office in downtown, and that she was “excited to continue the tradition.”

This year’s festival introduced a youth zone, which included its own stage for rap and rhythm and blues acts, like Shari, Leonardra ‘Le Le’ Thomas and Emiah Afroembrace Dance, along with games and activities and arts and crafts for kids.

Gallo said that downtown Richmond’s reputation can make it hard to attract businesses and events to the area, and that “the Richmond Main Street Initiative is determined to make the neighborhood a vibrant pedestrian urban village.”

At least some festival attendees were optimistic about the possibility.

“There are fantastic people here,” said Gardyne. “Richmond is a perfect spot for creating opportunities.”

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