Food, unity in Saratoga

Published 8:35 pm Saturday, September 17, 2016

There were shrill shrieks from children at play, the scuffing of sneakers on the basketball court and the excited chatter among residents at Ida Easter Park on a hot Saturday afternoon.

The Saratoga community gathered for the second in a series of planned “Breaking Down Barriers through Unity” programs whose purpose is to bring all ethnic groups together to build better community relationships.

The program began in August with a “Unity Walk,” during which city officials, police officers and citizens joined hands and walked along North Main Street to the opening ceremony for National Night Out.

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Bob Stephens, co-founder of the Community Action Coalition of Suffolk VA, said organizations cooperating to put the events together hope to host four more community events, one in each month, as a part of the unity program.

While, the community has responded and engaged with the initiative, Stephens feels there is still more work to be done, specifically in terms of community representation.

At the Unity Walk in August, for instance, attendees were primarily white and at the Saratoga community day, attendees were primarily black.

“That’s the paradigm we are trying to shift,” Stephens said.

He hopes as the program progresses there will be a more balanced representation.

The Saratoga community day began with a community cleanup from 9 to 11 a.m. and concluded with a cookout at the Ida Easter Park.

Mayor Linda Johnson and Clyde Santana, a friend of Stephens, were also in attendance and stressed the importance of community unity.

“We are working to get the community together,” Johnson said. “We are one city and can only get better by coming together.”

“You start with your playground and branch out,” Santana said. “If you lose your playground, you’ve lost the war. If you win the playground, you’ve got peace. This is what makes this whole effort holistic.”

Stephens assured the unity program is a prolonged effort and will require all citizens and public officials to work together.

“We are moving forward one step at a time,” he said. “We are not trying to be one-and-done.”