For the seventh consecutive year, Bester Community Hope (BCOH), an initiative of San Mar Family & Community Services, hosted the South End Community Block Party at City Park in Hagerstown, bringing together the perfect mix of free family fun, a generous portion of community resource providers, with a dash of high quality entertainment. Close to 3000 people were in attendance during the four hour event supported by the Washington County Department of Human Services and the Alice Virginia and David W. Fletcher Foundation.
The event was headlined by national recording artist and performer Supaman, hailing from Apsaalooka Nation in Montana. He brought with him his close collaborator DJ Element from Phoenix, Arizona. During his performance, Supaman brought his unique style of Native American hip hop music and dance, infused with many stories and influences from his culture and upbringing. He shared during his performance the impact of losing his father to suicide at age ten, and entering foster care while his mother experienced struggles with alcoholism. He was able to return the care of his mother and have great success, and as he shared his journey with children and families in the audience he drove home the message, “No matter where you come from, no matter what you’ve been through, you’re in control of your own destiny.”
Opening up for Supaman was local hip hop academy Fresh Academicz, who were the first ever performers at the first BCOH Block Party in 2016 at Bester Elementary field. Now an annual community tradition in the South End at City Park, Academy owner Peter “Bam” Arizmendi led a large group of students on stage who displayed various technical skills in hip hop dance, and the group even returned to the stage to dance during a song during the headlining set. Arizmendi shared after the performance, “It’s great to see the community come together through the positive roots of hip hop. It was great performing with Supaman pushing love forward. This is the hip hop you want everyone to see.”
Over forty resource vendors provided critical community resources in areas such as health, education, community services, child care, basic needs and supplies along with local faith connections through non-stigmatizing and fun opportunities. Local non-profit ‘It’s a Blessing to be a Blessing’ provided free meals for the masses to ensure cost was no factor for families looking to create great memories together. Kids spent ample time experiencing good clean fun, including laser tag, a petting zoo, bubble soccer, and even meeting some of their favorite comic book characters in Batman, Wonder Woman and the Flash. The actress who was greeting children as Wonder Woman commented, “This is such a cool event. I see a lot of happy faces today.” Other community stakeholders present shared positive sentiments, such as local WCPS teacher Ryan Rau, who explained, ” I think it’s great that staff from local schools come out and interact with their kids and build a different kind of relationship outside the classroom. I even got to play laser tag and competed in archery against a student with her dad, which was a great thing to experience.”
San Mar Family & Community Services CEO Keith Fanjoy explained, “There were so many tangible interactions we can take away from today that will make a difference for local families, but what is special about this event are the things that go unsaid. Kids having access to opportunities, families creating lasting positive memories together even when times are tough, and a clear vision to all present that good things are happening in this neighborhood. It may be harder to quantify, but if you were here, there was no doubt about the impact.”
All photography courtesy of Kevin Gilbert