Annual festival keeps Rondo spirit alive

On a scorching hot 95-degree July 15, a few hundred people gathered at the Martin Luther King Center in Minnesota’s capitol city for the 34th annual Rondo Days celebration. There was live entertainment, delectable BBQ food, frozen eats, two dozen community-based organizations and several sponsors, including St. Paul Public Schools, Metro Transit, Minnesota Historic Society, KFAI radio, Sunrise Banks and 89.9 KMOJ.

Participants in this year’s Rondo Days parade (Monisha Turner/MSR News)

Buddy Vegas, who hosted the performance portion of the festival, expressed how this event is historically important to everyone who attended. “This is the spirit of a thriving Black community,” he said. “Every year, we come here to remember the families and lost businesses.  It’s a community thing, its love, its life.”

Every year this celebration helps to preserve and remind residents and visitors of the past and present of the historic neighborhood, once Minnesota’s largest African American neighborhood.

(See video below of drill team in this year’s parade. Video captured by Monisha Turner)

The historic Rondo community began as a Jewish area and later grew into a Black neighborhood as the city’s Jewish population moved out. When the freeway location for Interstate 94 was chosen in 1956, it went along Saint Anthony Avenue, taking out more than 600 African American homes. Numerous businesses and institutions were also sacrificed.

In 1982, Marvin “Roger” Anderson and Floyd Smaller created the “Rondo Avenue, Inc.” organization and the Rondo Days Festival. The festival celebrates the best and brightest of Minnesota’s African American stories, achievements and culture.

This year, in addition to remembering the neighborhood and the highway project that divided the Black community, Rondo-goers also took time out to remember Philando Castile, who would have celebrated his 34th birthday the following day. He was killed on July 6, 2016.

Castile’s mother Vallerie held a vigil, giving cupcakes to the community. She also created the Philando Castile Relief Foundation to people directly affected by gun violence.

Rondo Days Festival, July 15. (Ivan B. Phifer/MSR News)

Dima Kash, an international recording artist from Minneapolis, dedicated a live performance called “Open Your Eyes” to Philando featuring local St. Paul R&B singer Monaye Love. “Can we have a moment of silence right now for all the innocent lives that were lost?” Kash asked the crowd before the performance. Monaye Love followed with “Rest in peace, Philando, this is for him.”

Other performers were Krucial Kreations Dance Team; spoken word performance by artist Poetry Gumbo; performances by Michael Brooks; and Hip Hop 4 Life, an artist mentoring youth group.

Tim Simmons, a youth mentor from St. Paul’s Summit University neighborhood, says he enjoys the Rondo celebration not only for the vibe, but to give back and be a part of history. It is a chance for the community to acknowledge the area’s Black history.

“When I-94 came, it separated our community,” said Simmons. “This is a way of coming back, and giving back. We don’t have [too many celebrations like these], a celebration of us as Black people. This is truly a beautiful thing.”


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