Top: Edgewood Alder Evette Hamilton: “We wanted to share the blessing with the whole community.” Bottom: Maria Sead. Danielle Campbell Photos.
As the sun beamed against her bouncing curls, fifth grader Maria Sead took to the middle of the street with a camouflage hula hoop and spun it with the joy and energy of a young girl in her last days of summer. Around her, laughter and conversation flowed freely; the smells of Jamaican food drifted over the street. Possible Futures’ street-facing windows and bright facade shone in the sun.
Saturday, Maria was one of hundreds who turned out for a reborn Edgewood Avenue Youth Block Party, which unfolded all afternoon between Sherman and Winthrop Avenues. For four hours, the sun-soaked street filled up with activities from face painting to free food to public art, attendees savoring the sights and sounds of summer before the return of school this week.
“Covid-19 stopped us and that was the last year we did it,” said Edgewood Alder Evette Hamilton, who worked with Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker-Myers, Dwight Alder Frank Douglass, Possible Futures owner Lauren Anderson and several community partners to make it happen. “So, we brought it back this year on the street and invited everybody because we wanted to share the blessing with the whole community.”
Saturday showed how much the community had missed it. By the early afternoon, a sea of people filled the two-block stretch, some dancing as others ate, hula hooped, stopped to get their faces painted, chat with neighbors and bring home free books. Steve “Skateboard Skoob” Roberts, who teaches skateboarding through Push To Start and more recently Skate Haven, coasted by on his board, popping tricks with a smile.
Osorio, Highsmith, and Roberts.
He was far from the only one to bring different forms of transit—particularly bikes and boards—into the event and the conversation. Representing the New Haven Coalition of Active Transportation, friends and colleagues Lita Highsmith and Lee Osorio spoke to attendees about the importance of transportation education and equity—including in a city that has proved deadly to pedestrians and cyclists in the past years.
Both are New Haven history makers, they noted Saturday: Highsmith is the first Black woman to hold the title of League Cycling Coach with the League of American Bicyclists, and Osorio is the first Latina to be a lead cycling instructor in New Haven.
“My mission is to make sure that New Haven and Connecticut residents have active transportation education and equity education to avoid death,” said Osorio.
Most attendees, meanwhile, came on their feet. Walking down the street with her son Jaxon Joseph, Alisha Green lit up when asked how she was enjoying the afternoon. Accompanied by Dr. Donald McAulay Jr. and his daughter, Eva, she praised the block party’s good vibes, from savory Jamaican food to vibrant face painting.
When this reporter caught up with her, she and Jaxon were on their way to pick up a free book. Around them, the party didn’t show any sign of stopping.
“This has been an absolutely amazing event and I would love to have more things like that happen, especially in the city of New Haven,” she said.
So too would singer, songwriter, and proud breast cancer survivor Vernetta “Lady V” Holley, who came dressed in turquoise and light blue from headwrap to shoe. After experiencing homelessness and breast cancer several years ago, Holley said, she now celebrates every day of her life to its fullest. Coming to the block party with her greatest accessory—her smile—was part of that.
“Just for me to be out here and be healthy and happy and wholesome, and to see such a strong community,” she said, adding that she’s been cancer-free for six years. “And it’s such a strong network of people out here supporting the children. It’s amazing to me. I feel good.”
While the activity around her was branded as a “Youth Block Party,” Holley was part of a multigenerational spirit that flowed through the afternoon, from vendor collaborations to adults, kids, and grandkids working on a mural of the abolitionist, author, geographer and New Haven-raised Ruthie Wilson Gilmore on the side of 318 Edgewood Ave.
Chef Oluchi Tafari.
In the street, Chefs Oluchi Tafari and Deja Smith worked together to give the community plant-based and vegan Caribbean fare, including juices, smoothies, and vegan food. Tafari, who lives in Bridgeport but hails from Jamaica, said the event made him feel at home. “When I’m in Jamaica in the summer or in the Christmas you always have a back-to-school treat. So, I definitely feel at home, and I love the environment,” he said.
Merle Williams, who lives nearby on Hotchkiss Street, said she was appreciative of the block party for its ability to bring the neighborhood together and support the majority-Black neighborhood. She wants to see more of that happen around the city, she said. So did Paul James, who came from Bridgeport to experience the festivities.
As they worked on the mural nearby—which will adorn the side and back of Possible Futures—lead artist Jess X. Snow and project manager Gavriel Cutipa-Zorn both echoed that feeling, with gratitude for the community they’ve witnessed during their time in New Haven.
“Painting a mural this big can only be possible with having a community that’s shown up that’s already been cultivated here,” said Cupita-Zorn.
Nearby, artist Chris Barnard agreed. For the past week, he’s spent some part of each day at the mural, watching it take shape. As a visual artist himself and the partner of bookspace owner Lauren Anderson, he was especially excited to collaborate with Snow, a public artist that he follows and is a fan of.
“It’s been amazing to see how many community members showed up and have been working so hard on it,” he said. “And even the artist in their team commented on that and how they feel that like the community around this book space but also with these organizations in New Haven seems pretty, pretty unique.”
Inside the bookstore, that sense of community also took hold. Gathered with Black mamas from across the neighborhood and the region, Shannon Knox (Healer Sha) and Brittany Needham (Doula Britt) of Golden Radiance Village held a “Maternal Health Hub: Circle of Care.” The event was created specifically for melanated mothers and families, especially in the midst of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared a Black maternal mortality crisis.
The Maternal Health Hub featured providers, doulas, and other members of a curated community support team. There were midwives, physicians, obstetrician-gynecologists, therapists, and nannies all there to give the mothers the encouragement they needed. There were also tears, smiles, affirmed breastfeeding mothers, and a sea of Black women in a space that felt sacred. All of those circles of care were helmed by women of color.
“They were all in the space speaking to moms and connecting with them so that they can have care providers that look like them, that hear them, that honor them, and celebrate them. That was the whole purpose of the event, and it was successful,” Knox said.
Shannon Knox (Healer Sha) and Brittany Needham (Doula Britt) of Golden Radiance Village.
A mother herself and Mama Glow certified doula—meaning she does full-spectrum and bereavement doula care—Surrenity was one of the moms in the audience. She said she found the event refreshing: she has been looking for a community of Black mothers and maternal care workers since moving back to Connecticut.
“We are living in and moving in an answered prayer, and I just couldn’t miss it,” she said. While she is from New Haven, she never saw a community space like Possible Futures when she was growing up.
“They just just brought us in with love and a warm welcome,” she said as she bounced her young baby on her lap and addressed two older babies in front of her. “Possible Futures is a phenomenal mainstay … this physical space … with this beautiful gathering and space of beautiful Black women who are here to serve each other and serve our people and shift the way we do life. And bring in life for generations to come and I just feel that shine.”