Festival to highlight role of historic community center

Friday, May 10, 2019 | 6:00 AM

The annual Juneteenth holiday commemorates the 1865 abolition of slavery. Next month, the Sewickley Community Center will celebrate with a festival that also honors the center’s storied past.

The nonprofit’s history has been marked by considerable evolution since its 1935 founding, said interim Executive Director Susan Blackman.

“It was founded as a place to provide activities for the African-Americans in Sewickley, because … they weren’t able to participate in any other organizations other than churches up to that time,” she said.

Times have changed in the region, and the center has since added more programming and welcomed a more diverse group of community organizations. In addition to a food pantry and outdoor swimming pool, the center offers a daycare program that started last year. Youth wrestlers from the Quaker Valley Wrestling Association use the facility as well, Blackman said.

“With all the partnerships that have grown up in the past couple of years, it’s kind of emerged into a more active organization again,” Blackman said.

During the Juneteenth Festival, which runs from 12-5 p.m. June 22, attendees can learn more about the Sewickley Community Center’s offerings and history while enjoying live music, food and shopping opportunities provided by local vendors.

The Flow Band, a local soul and reggae group, will headline the event. The Ibeji Drum Ensemble is also scheduled to perform said Sewickley’s Patricia Lee, who is on the planning committee for the event.

“The Flow Band has a pretty good following in Pittsburgh, so we wanted to bring entertainment that would bring people in from all over, from the surrounding communities,” said Lee.

During the festival’s opening hours, a brief “living history,” of the center will be presented. Community center representatives plan to honor the legacy of the late Stan Rideout, one of the organization’s first executive directors.

“We’re going to have a service to make the presentation to his family that we’re renaming the Sewickley Community Center pool the ‘Stan and Vike Rideout Pool,’” after Stan and his wife, said Lee.

In addition to scheduled events, several local vendors plan to sell merchandise and food throughout the afternoon. One of the vendors, Marlon Gist, will sell original artwork. Gist, a well-known local artist, has exhibited at Sweetwater Center for the Arts. His sister, Tracey Gist, who runs a catering business in Ambridge, will be selling soul food at the festival.

The center also has planned activities for children, Lee said, including a ninja training course and a STEM activity organized by local Girl Scouts.

Although the center has hosted Juneteenth events before, representatives said they hope this year’s slate of activities can reinvigorate the celebration. They hope to get more people engaged in the organization’s mission of providing affordable activities, opportunities and space for Sewickley Valley residents.

“Our goal is to build on this year’s celebration and to do it every year, hopefully around the same time,” Lee said. “We’d like to make it bigger and bigger each year and hopefully, eventually lead to a full weekend’s worth of activity.”

For information about sponsorship opportunities, visit: https://www.sewickley communitycenter.com/juneteenth-sponsorship.