Constance Jackson would like to see more cultural festivals celebrating all backgrounds in Maricopa. Photo by Anita McLeod

By Michelle Chance

It was summertime in Baltimore. Almost every weekend was marked with festivals highlighting the many cultures within the community – Italian, Greek and African-American celebrations, among others.

Constance Jackson, president of the Pinal County NAACP, grew up in Minnesota but later moved to Maryland.

She fondly remembers the warm weekends when she enjoyed Greek food during these festivals on the east coast.

“People would turn out in droves, but it was a learning experience for everybody,” she said.

Jackson moved to Maricopa nearly 10 years ago and watched it grow. She thought her new city could benefit from festivals celebrating different cultures, too.

So last year she and a committee organized Black History Month events, including readings at the library, a movie and discussion at Copper Sky and an essay competition for school children.

Jackson said this year’s celebration will focus on Maricopa students and be “pumped up” by incorporating artwork and poetry into the program in addition to essay writings. Contributions will be displayed inside City Hall sometime in February.

“Maricopa is a very diverse community and we need to learn and understand each other,” Jackson said. “When you understand each other, you can get along. Everybody can be happy.”

Vice Mayor Marvin Brown agreed, saying society benefits “tremendously” from children learning about contributions from different ethnic groups because it encourages compassion.

“If you believe in America as being a country of people who are open and willing to enjoy each other and to recognize all of our sacrifices, that is very important,” Brown said.

Meanwhile, he acknowledged there are people who don’t.

“It’s unfortunate because I don’t think we can afford, as a nation, to be a hateful nation. I think we should be a caring nation and support each other,” he said.

Derek Jeske, American Legion commander in Maricopa, said Black History Month spotlights African-American educators, scholars and historians who helped pave a path for what African-Americans experience today.

“(We) encourage their accomplishments and celebrate their accomplishments so that other African-Americans can feel safe to pursue more avenues without fear of discrimination, without fear of any type of setbacks,” Jeske said.

Community leaders do a good job advocating for such celebrations, he said. “Could we always do better? Of course.”

Last year was the first time Mayor Christian Price signed a proclamation officially declaring February as Black History Month in Maricopa. Feb. 7, the proclamation is again on the council’s agenda. This year, a new committee will take on the responsibilities of planning events, possibly marking the opportunity for more cultural celebrations in the future.

Although situated on either side of the country, perhaps Maricopa and Baltimore summers will have more in common than they have in the past.

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This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.