Local resident-powered group ‘Friendship Neighborhood’ embarks on series of festivals in Drake Park

The Friendship Neighborhood will present their inaugural “Friend Fest” in Drake Park, 951 Maine Ave. in the Willmore City area of Long Beach, on Saturday, June 22 from 11am to 3pm. The free family-friendly event will include live music by local band Romero y Perez, skill-share workshops on seed planting presented by Foodscape Long Beach, DIY non-toxic cleaning products and creative-reuse art, as well as various park games, face painting, a“free market” and more in an effort to bring neighbors together as friends.
A grant was awarded to The Friendship Neighborhood Friend Fest by the Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach initiative based on the intention of the group to create a sustainable network of allies that celebrate the gifts and talents of their neighbors as opposed to focusing on deficits of the area. Through the course of the ongoing development of this and future events, the objective is to build healthy relationships amongst residents of all ages in ways both empowering and uplifting for all, according to a press release issued by the Friendship Neighborhood.
The idea for a series of Friend Fests came after the neighborhood was rocked by gun violence that ended the life of a 23-year-old Willmore City resident named Nelson Suarez. A second incident of gun violence six days later prompted homeowners, property managers and renters to join together at a community meeting featuring the district’s City Council member, the LBPD West Division Commander and their local gang unit.
“I left the meeting feeling very unsatisfied with the answers we got. The only solutions perpetuated seemed to be that of increased surveillance via video cameras and operating as a ‘nosy neighbor’ that reports any and everyone that they think ‘doesn’t belong.’ How do I know who doesn’t belong just by looking at them?” said Erin Foley, Willmore City resident and local organizer. “I don’t want us all just peering through our window afraid of everyone. I felt we need to address the root of the problem– not foster fear and suspicion and solely focus on catching people doing wrong. Ultimately, as neighbors talked, it was decided that the best first step might be to try to get to know our other neighbors. The more you get to know people, the more you care about them…the more we get to know each other, the better we can figure out together what we can do together to foster positive change.”
One way the group plans to break the ice among neighbors is to utilize the solidarity and trust-building techniques of Augusto Boal’s “Theater of the Oppressed,” which brings participants together through various games to beget respect of diversity of experiences and thoughts along with the shared humanity of all participants, according to the Friendship Neighborhood.
In order to help create awareness of what is available and what people can get involved in, local organizations such as Centro CHA, Foodscape Long Beach, Green Long Beach!, The Long Beach Time Exchange, The Long Beach Depot for Creative Reuse, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Willmore City Heritage Association, Friends of Drake Park, Housing LB, and Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach, among others, have been invited to share their various resources, ideas and actionable ways for perpetuating sustainable growth and positive change for the community of Willmore City.
Attendees are encouraged to bring a dish of their choice for the potluck and/or gently used clothes and books for the free market, however, no one will be required to bring anything in order to participate fully. Reusable water bottles, plates and utensils are encouraged, Fresh water will be provided by local organization Green Long Beach! via a free hydration station.

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