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South comes together at Unity Festival

Jada Hobson at the fourth annual Unity Festival in Gulfport.
Jada Hobson at the fourth annual Unity Festival in Gulfport.

Unity Festival Inc. will bring unity to the community with the Eighth annual Unity Festival from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday in Gulfport.

The festival takes place at 31st Avenue and 19th Street with a full day of festival activities including live music, vendors, a children's carnival and a parade.

Unity Festival Inc. President Cassandra Harper-Walton said the organization grew out of post-Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. That basic desire to offer immediate unity has grown into a year-round effort to improve the lives of people in and around Gulfport.

"It started after Katrina to give back to the community and enrich the area; we have a rich heritage area," she said. "It has grown into something other than just a festival."

The organization's activities include a Thanksgiving celebration, a book jamboree and an angel tree.

The annual Mr. and Miss Unity Scholarship Contest program has five students who submitted essays on the topic of bullying prevention this year. The students did community service and toured a college as part of the application program, and they will attend the festival and ride as honorees in the parade.

A ceremony to crown the winners of the $2,000 scholarships will be at 6 p.m. March 26 at the Good Deeds Community Center, 15101 Madison St., Gulfport. Tickets are $15.

That spirit of community service mixes with a sense of putting the "festive" back in festival.

Along with 40 or more local vendors, there is participation from area schools, including a performance by the Gaston Point Elementary School's strings choir.

The greatest excitement of the day may be for the parade that will come through the area at 1 p.m. The parade will start at the corner of 19th Street and 31st Avenue. It will roll north on 31st to 22nd Street, west to 33rd Avenue and then south back to 19th Street.

Participation draws from far beyond the Gulfport area. The Third Ward Tribe out of Bay St. Louis coming adorned in flamboyant New Orleans-style costumes. The Swinging Starletts, a senior ladies group, come from Picayune. There also will be representatives from the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, Martha Anne's Soul Line Dancers, a day-care king and queen, and 30 to 40 classic vehicles riding in the parade.

"Participation from the crowd is awesome," Harper-Walton said. "Everyone comes out and has a good time. It's a big day."

Admission to the festival is free. Parking is available at the 19th Street Community Center and on 30thAvenue across from Taylor Harris Drugs.

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