By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — Times have changed and some couldn’t even give you the name of a neighbor if you asked.
Trying to knock down barriers preventing such interactions and connect people in the community, Mt. Pilgrim Church and Christian Partners for Racial Reconciliation presented the 12th annual free picnic Sunday afternoon.
Even the Rev. Thomas Robinson Sr., who helped create the annual picnic, said he’d met a neighbor Sunday he’d never really spoken to before.
Robinson grew up in Chicago. “You don’t speak to people, you mind your own business,” he said of his hometown. It’s become that way in smaller communities, too, he added.
Wanting to get people talking regardless of their skin color or church affiliation, his church, Mt. Pilgrim, and other clergy organizations in Madison County got together to put on the annual picnic at Jackson Park in Anderson. An event like it gives people the “chance to meet somebody.”
There’s no agenda, Robinson said. “You can just be yourself and talk to whoever you want to.”
Despite initial judgments based purely on appearance, he said, people could really grow to be friends if they’d just talk to one another.
”I would love to see more of this in the community,” said Amity Rees, 32, of the picnic.
She and her husband moved to Anderson from Lansing, Mich., in 2008 and quickly noticed a racial divide in town, she said. It was almost like a line had been drawn.
Rees said she’d like to see less of that separation and more of the community working together.
”We’re cheating ourselves if we’re not willing to listen to someone else’s experiences,” she said.
Attending the School of Theology at Anderson University and interning with Madison Park Church of God, Tim Quainoo, 22, said he came out to see what’s going on in Anderson and to get ideas of how to develop more opportunities to bring people together.
Coming from Rhode Island, he said he too noticed a divide in the community.
“Efforts like this working toward reconciling those differences is great,” he said.
While Debra Kemp, of Anderson, has known about the annual picnic for awhile, it was her first time out Sunday and she said it was a day of “good gospel in the park.”
”It’s nice to see so many people out for fellowship,” she added.
The picnic saw about 2,000 people last year and Robinson expected it to peak around 3 p.m. Sunday.
”I think it’s great every year,” said Cheryl Dawson, of Anderson. It helps those struggling by providing them with a free meal, and gives the “kids a chance to run around being wild,” she said.
Plus, it’s a good time to come meet people and “see folks you haven’t seen in awhile.”
About 50 volunteers helped serve food, provide gospel music and supervise games for the little ones, all at no cost to picnic-goers.
Howard and Michelle Jones brought their children ranging in age from 2 to 17 and said there was something for everyone.
”The kids pick up on all of it, the fellowship, the songs,” Michelle said.
Howard said events like it are needed to help break down racial barriers and barriers between churches. They’ve been coming to the picnic for years and “keep them (the kids) exposed as much as possible.”
”It’s a regular thing with us,” he said. “Anytime we can get fellowship and be with other people, we find a way to be there.”
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