‘Back in the Day’ Fest energizes Southside community

(left photo) Pros of the rope doing a Double Dutch demo; (back, l-r) Greg Austin, Bobby Tims, Gary Armstrong, Tony Rice (front, l-r) Ronnell Tresvant, Phillip Crawford and James Graham (left photo by Paige Elliott/Right photo ourtesy of Phillip Crawford)

New mural offers message of love and hope

Hope can take many shapes and is often found in things one would never imagine. For a community still rebounding from the paralyzing effects of COVID that has taken so much from many, as well as the murder of George Floyd, that hope was on full display as a large swath of community members gathered at a park for an event that started in someone’s backyard.

Now in its 13th year, the Southside Back in the Day Festival held on Sept. 3 at Phelps Park has undoubtedly earned its lofty reputation as the jewel of summer activities in South Minneapolis. 

It started as a backyard get-together, but the fest now encapsulates the pride, culture and unity of an entire community. The event draws attendees from across the metro and even some out-of-towners. 

Phillip Crawford, one of the event founders, reflected on how a gathering of good music, friends and family turned into an annual event that a community welcomes to relax, share much-needed services, and bond.

“Back then, I couldn’t have ever imagined that our small gathering would become so large. It truly has taken on a life of its own,” said Crawford. “We are so grateful for all the support throughout the years. 

“It’s so uplifting to see the people return year after year. They are hungry for positive experiences, and that’s what we strive to provide with the Back in the Day Festival.”

Underscoring the event organizers’ commitment to fostering community spirit, the theme for this year’s festival was  “Wake up, everybody! What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”

Crawford is especially proud of producing an event that has traditionally been incident-free. “We have not had an incident, praise God. We try to show our youth that it’s okay to love one another, that we can come together without any trouble, and if there is any tension in the air, we even cut through that with love.” 

One of the many activities at this year’s fest included the unveiling of a new basketball mural. The creative genius behind the powerful mural is local artist Jendayi Berry, who prides himself, as stated on his website, on creating “art for the socially conscious disrupters and supporters of positive change.”

Berry’s design also included creative efforts from youth at the Southside Village Boys & Girls Club and community members. The colorful art is designed to represent, harness and redistribute the positivity of the community.

Berry spoke about the inspiration for the design: “So I just think after George Floyd’s murder a lot of energy was taken out of our communities, and we were kind of left with where do we go from here? And I wanted to answer that question through this piece. For me, the answer is for us to focus on ourselves, to re-engage in the positive energy that comes from our community.”

He also believes the mural can offer a different perspective to outsiders of this community. “What’s important about this is that while we may see it as a basketball court, to others driving by on one of the busiest streets in South Minneapolis, they will see a symbol of love and what this community can look like.”

The mural was first proposed by the Elevate Foundation in 2019. Those plans were followed by two years of input from the community and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board staff. Bill Costello, the founder of Elevate Foundation, shared his thoughts on his foundation’s choice to be involved. 

“I lived in the King Field neighborhood. And then George Floyd was murdered,” he reflected. “We had done some volunteer work in this neighborhood. I found myself providing food to kids who were no longer able to receive school-funded meals and realized that these kids were in peril.” 

Costello continued, “I had already been linked with Project Backboard, which is the organization that executes these projects throughout the country. And so it seemed like an excellent opportunity to bring an asset to the community that the kids could get excited about, be proud of, and bring some positive energy to their neighborhood, especially in the aftermath of so much change and controversy.”

Mark Graves, Boys and Girls Club of Minneapolis, was also instrumental in supporting efforts to create the new mural. “We are so happy after two years to finally see it as a reality,” he stated. “I’m just amazed by the creativity of our artists.”

The Phelps Park basketball court renovation was spearheaded by Project Backboard, whose mission is to renovate public basketball courts through community-strengthening art while inspiring people to think more critically and creatively about their environment.

The festival also featured an array of specialty vendors, including author James Holmes of Black Lion, a publisher of books to help empower Black families; Jervis White, Jr. of Papa J’s Kitchen & Goods. 

Mack the Barber was also on hand offering haircuts to those who couldn’t afford them. “This is how I give back,” Mack said. “We’ve all been at a point when we need a hand up.” 

Alex Hands was also in the park with Lake Street Works, an organization that offers paid skill apprenticeships to high school students of color. “Through this apprentice program, we are working to eliminate generational poverty, and the best way to do this is to ensure that youth coming from at-risk backgrounds have a skill from which a livable wage can be earned,” explained Hands.

The Southside Back in the Day Festival once again delivered just what this community needed—an infusion of positive vibes, unity, fun, good food, and soulful music.

See more photos by Al Brown below.