Chester's holiday revelers seek a break from the violence

DeCarlow Ward (left) and Zayid Buckley-Bolds start the grilling in Chester Park. "We're going to reminisce . . .," Buckley-Bolds said. "We'll talk about Chester's problems and talk about what we will do about it."
DeCarlow Ward (left) and Zayid Buckley-Bolds start the grilling in Chester Park. "We're going to reminisce . . .," Buckley-Bolds said. "We'll talk about Chester's problems and talk about what we will do about it."
Posted: July 04, 2010

Chester Park was filled with people craving the usual stuff of an Independence Day weekend festival, and there was plenty of food, vendors, games, and entertainment at Saturday's festivities to satisfy everyone. But the biggest craving this year was for something different - a reprieve from the violence that lately has engulfed the city's streets.

Chester is holding its July Fourth weekend activities despite the state of emergency that Mayor Wendell N. Butler Jr. imposed last month - and that the City Council extended - after a series of shootings and homicides.

The declaration set a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. in five high-crime areas. The park is not in one of those areas.

While some said the crowd at midday was smaller than last year's, streams of children still ran around the petting zoo and back and forth between the two moon-bounce castles, whose knee-high royalty ran as a pack if they saw one empty. Rarely was a moon bounce empty for long.

"Everything's been about death. Celebrating reminds us about life," said Chester resident Michelle Bermudez, 37. "We're celebrating our independence. It's a good feeling. Maybe if people took that good feeling with them, things will get better."

She paused. "At least it's a hope."

Bermudez and her friend Shomala Garrett, 34, were celebrating in the hottest way possible. They had arrived at the park about five or six hours early and staked out a good lawn position for the evening's concert, featuring "old school" hip-hop stars including Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

The friends had gone to last year's show, which Bermudez called "insanely wonderful." They weren't going to miss it this year, despite the heat and the homicides.

There are two types of people, said Chester resident Zakiyyah Pickett, 33, who stood in front of one of the moon bounces.

"You have your regular Chester residents - they're not going to care one way or the other" about the violence when it comes to celebrating this weekend. "Others are apprehensive," she said, especially after a Chester Housing Authority officer was shot Tuesday.

She counted herself among the "regular Chester residents."

Zayid Buckley-Bolds, 30, a music producer in Philadelphia, was hosting a barbecue in the park for about 40 friends he grew up with in Chester, some of whom had come from other states. The air around him was thick with the scent of grilling hot dogs and hamburgers.

"We're going to reminisce, and we're going to reflect on our successes in life," Buckley-Bolds said. "We'll talk about Chester's problems and talk about what we will do about it."

He said he recently had signed up to be a mentor in Chester.

Cierra Alston, 16, stood at the petting zoo, looking at the pen where the llama and the goats walked side by side.

As a Junior City Council member in Chester, she is only too aware of the violence in her hometown.

She said that she had known one of the young men killed last month, and that a cousin had been shot dead last year. She's glad - for herself and for Chester - for the break that this weekend's festivities are providing.

"I think it's kind of nice to have something like this," she said. "It's good to show we can do something positive."


Contact staff writer Carolyn Davis

at 215-854-4214 or cdavis@phillynews.com.

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