Saturday, May 26, 2001
City warily anticipates Taste test
Festival-goers, protesters converge today
By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer
For many, the three-day Taste of Cincinnati will be a test of whether the city is coming together or coming apart.
We are determined to make this work, said Mayor Charlie Luken, who has been boosting the 22nd annual food-and-music festival in the face of a planned boycott by a group of clergymen and the pullout of two R&B groups Midnight Star and the Isley Brothers that had been scheduled to play today.
Festival-goers who come to Taste today, Sunday or Monday can expect to pass through lines of protesters organized by a Group of Concerned Clergy, who are expected to pass out leaflets asking them not to attend.
IF YOU GO
What: Taste of Cincinnati, featuring samples from 38 restaurants and music on four stages.|
When: Noon-midnight today and Sunday, noon-9 p.m. Monday.
Where: Central Parkway, between Elm and Main streets, downtown.
Parking: $1 parking will be in effect at all city garages throughout the weekend.
Cost: Free admission. Food items $4 and under.
But they can also expect to see one of the best-known African-American entertainers in the country - James Brown, the self-styled Godfather of Soul, who Thursday agreed to perform at noon today after a prayer service to open Taste.
He's coming, said Stu Ric, president of Mr. Brown's record label, Fome Records. He just wants to come in and support this thing and say "Let's stop the violence. Let's have some fun.'
It isn't about the mayor; it isn't about the president, Mr. Ric said. He's the Godfather and he's doing this for the people, not the politicians.
The recently formed Concerned Clergy group has said that a city with Cincinnati's racial problems has nothing to celebrate.
Rioting rocked the city last month after the shooting death of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black man, at the hands of a white police officer.
Some boycott organizers said they are angry that Mr. Brown agreed to perform at an event many African-Americans will boycott. The Rev. Steven Wheeler of Impact Ministries, one of several ministers planning to picket, said he feels betrayed by Mr. Brown's acceptance of Mr. Luken's invitation to perform.
I think it's a shame when we as African-Americans supported James Brown when he was put in jail, the Rev. Mr. Wheeler said. We cried out for him and wore T-shirts that said "Free James Brown.' Charlie Luken didn't wear them.
Now to see Soul Brother No.1 stand on the other side of the fence for whatever reason, it saddens me, he said.
Mr. Luken said that when he talked to Mr. Brown on Thursday, he explained what had been going on in Cincinnati the past two months and told him about the boycott.
He wants to be here, Mr. Luken said. He has this message of peace that he is taking to the streets and he is determined to do it.
A Group of Concerned Clergy and its supporters are planning to meet at 10 a.m. today at New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine, where they plan to march to the Taste of Cincinnati site on Central Parkway.
Ministers spent part of the day Friday preparing picket signs and leaflets for protesters.
Cincinnati police officials declined to discuss their specific staffing and security plans but did say plenty of officers will be on hand to assure the public's safety.
I firmly believe this will be a safe event, said Cincinnati Lt. Gary Brown of the department's Event Planning Unit.
We will have an adequate number of officers. If people need a police officer, there will be enough around, he said.
Some Tristate residents say they had no intention of coming, boycott or not, while others said they'll be there.
Cincinnati has taste? quipped Timothy Rodriguez, 27, of Mount Adams. The Florida native, who recently moved to the Queen City, said he doesn't plan to attend.
Mr. Rodriguez said inviting a premier black artist such as Mr. Brown sounds like an attempt at unity.
But I don't take anything away from an impoverished group in the city using the event to have their opinions heard, he said.
Christine Wever of Taylor Mill said she attends Taste every year, and will go this year if she finds a baby sitter.
I don't think anything will happen, but there is no way I'm taking my child, said Mrs. Wever, who has a 3 1/2-month-old son. Personally, I'm not afraid to go.
Sharon Short, 53, of Mount Adams hasn't been to Taste in years, but might go this year.
I would probably go to support the businesses, she said. It makes no sense to me that someone is calling for a boycott against innocent businesses. I don't believe in punishing the wrong people.
Terry De Villiers, 50, of West Chester Township, has no intention of going to Taste.
We have never gone, he said. We have other things going on this weekend. It has nothing to do with boycotting or protesting.
More information: (513) 579-3187; www.tasteofcincinnati.com
Kevin Aldridge, Michael Clark, Larry Nager and Jim Hannah contributed.
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