Sunday, August 05, 2001

Families with children at Over-the-Rhine fest

Violent stay away during annual event

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The crowd was a diverse mix of blacks and whites. Children rushed from booth to booth to get tattoos, have their faces painted, grab a balloon and pick up some popcorn.

        Everyone agreed that the only thing different about Saturday's 17th annual Over-the-Rhine Festival in Washington Park was the desire by participants to let outsiders know that their neighborhood is like any other.

        “This is the Over-the-Rhine community as it normally is: Peaceful. The violence is not part of the actual community,” said Katy Heins, a festival organizer.

[photo] Face-painting was a popular pastime at Saturday's festival. Desiree Owens, 11, of Westwood is decorated by Danielle Heller, 15, at the Memorial Community Center booth in Washington Park.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        April's violence was concentrated in Over-the-Rhine and, since then, the impoverished neighborhood buttressed against downtown's wealth has borne the brunt of incessant, on-the-street shootings.

        Residents in Over-the-Rhine liken their neighborhood to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By day, it's a regular community where people live, work and play. By night, trouble is rampant.

        On a hot Saturday afternoon, the festival drew 37 booths; there were 29 last year.

        “It's no different,” Carrie Johnson, Over-the-Rhine Community Council president, said of this year's festival. “People are still getting together. We even see some new faces.”

        Dennis Coskie, program director for the FreeStore/FoodBank in Over-the-Rhine, manned a booth that provided boxes of raisins, peanut butter cookies and information packets.

        “I don't find anything different in the neighborhood I live in,” said Mr. Coskie of Price Hill. “Random acts of violence can occur anywhere. We ought to know that by now.”

        Melva Wilcox, 43, of Avondale, was glad she took her four children to the festival. Her mother lives nearby.

        “I just decided to take a chance,” she said. “I told the kids we'd come down, but if there was a little bit of danger, we'd go home. So far, it's fine.”

        David Darden, 12, of the 500 block of East 13th Street, understands danger. He's a member of the Over-the-Rhine Steel Band.

        “I don't go outside much because of the shootings and the way people act,” he said. “If you feel like you might get hurt, you should stay a safe distance away. If I didn't live down here, I'd be scared to come down here myself.”

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