Laughter filled the RISE Food Festival Saturday as residents gathered in the Howard W. Bishop Middle School cafeteria.
The event was an African food festival held to honor the victims of traumatic events in the Gainesville community. The festival started at 1 p.m. and ended at 4 p.m.
The event was put on by Carl Watts, the head chef at Blue Gill Quality Foods, who said he wanted to address the gun violence in Gainesville. He is a part of the Chef Empowerment group, which works to reverse statistics in the increase in crime and decrease in employment by offering vocational job training and immediate job placement in Central Florida.
“We have to bring awareness to the growing violence and also the growing number of victims,” Watts said. “So let’s come together today and talk about the victims and say, ‘Hey, if you are a victim of these crimes we are here for you’ and I just used food to get everyone together.”
Blue Gill provided and served food prepared by cooks who have all graduated from the Reichert House Youth Academy, an after-school program created for young people who are in need of help with making the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
At the festival they served a corn-and-sweet-potato mix, smoked pork, barbecue chicken, black-eyed peas with collard greens, fried catfish and mac and cheese. People stacked their plates high with the food provided and sat around tables in the cafeteria to eat.
Lynn Perryman, 57, is a data manager at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Elementary School and said she came out to support her nephew Reggie Maxwell, 20, who is a cook at Blue Gill.
“I came to support and I love, love the message of the event,” Perryman said.
According to Watts, 66 people attended the event. Many people came with their children. Parents danced with their children on the floor while DJ E-Lo played Top 40 music to old rhythm and blues music.
Guests also checked out community-service organizations that had tables set up throughout the cafeteria, spreading their message and talking about what they do for the Gainesville community. Some of these organizations included Green Dot GNV, BOLD and Girl’s Place.
The cost to enter the festival was $10 for children 12 and under, $20 for adults and free for children under 3. All the money collected will be donated to Girl’s Place and First Love Yourself.
Christi Arrington, 41, is the executive director of Girl’s Place. While bending down to hug a young girl, she explained that Girl’s Place is a child care facility that empowers young girls.
Kia Williams, 25, who works as a nurse at Plaza Health and Rehab, was also at the festival. She volunteers at FLY, an empowerment group that helps build the self-esteem of teenage girls and women and pushes them to reach their full potential.
Williams said she has seen violence affect many people in her community and is “tired of it,” so she said she was happy to go to the event.
“There are too many shootings, and we are losing too many of our loved ones to gun violence, nonsense,” Williams said. “Put the guns down! Everyone should just get along.”