EDWARDSVILLE - The second annual Edwardsville Unity Festival combined fun and friendship for attendees on Saturday, Sept. 30.

People could check out informational booths, connect with local organizations and enjoy free food and live music throughout the day. This year’s Unity Fest grew from last year’s and saw several hundred attendees. The organization Edwardsville Unity hosted the festival and chose the theme “Unity begins with U.”

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“The idea was originally to just have a big party for Edwardsville, but also to get people talking to each other, communicating, finding space where we have similarities because there’s a lot of strife happening right now,” said Natalie Casey, a member of Edwardsville Unity.

Unity Fest invited organizations to set up a booth in Leclaire Park so they could share resources and information about their services. There were several speeches and performances from community members, including opening remarks by Edwardsville Mayor Art Risavy and live music from the Gateway Men’s Chorus and soul-folk artist Samantha Clemons. The dance group Alma De Mexico took the stage next, and the afternoon concluded with a performance by the St. Louis Traditional Chinese Music Ensemble.

A few speakers also shared their experience and information about local resources, from local poet LaShawnda Williams to Little Angels Foundation President Riz Kahn. Ben Greene spoke about gender and sexuality in education, and the Hispanic Leaders Group of Greater St. Louis was represented by Chairman of the Board Antonio Maldonado.

“We’re such a small town, but we get people from all over,” Casey added. “I think it’s really important for all of us to get to know our neighbors, to celebrate together, to find our similarities and just take care of each other.”

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Organizations like the Rainbow House and several churches had booths at the festival where attendees could stop by to learn more about their services. Tim Burge-Lape, church elder at Newsong Fellowship in Edwardsville, explained that they wanted to be represented at Unity Fest because the event embodies many of their beliefs.

“‘Love wins’ is kind of our slogan. We mean it,” he said. “We think that, at the end of the day, love is the ultimate, that God is love. Unity Fest is what we’re all about…I think it’s important to show that more faiths and organizations can come together and it’s not just one or the other, that we are all in this together.”

Lma Awwad echoed this idea with her booth “The Muslim Next Door,” which offered information about Islam and local mosques. She explained that her goal was to raise awareness and “[let] people know that we’re here,” and she hopes her four sons can internalize and share this message, too.

“I always tell them that if you don’t feel included, then you’re not doing good for anybody,” Awwad said. “The more that we do feel included, the better we can make everywhere we live, no matter where that is. It shouldn’t just be a small community based on faith or race. It should be more about who’s literally next door…That’s who your community becomes.”

For more information about Edwardsville Unity and Unity Fest, visit the organization’s Facebook page and official website at EdwardsvilleUnity.com.

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