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South Berkeley celebrates

By Chris Nichols, Daily Planet Staff
Monday June 17, 2002

Thousands of residents from the Bay Area gathered in south Berkeley Sunday for the Juneteenth Festival, celebrating African American history, culture and the end of slavery. 

The weekend’s arts, crafts, food, music and multi-cultural activities, attended by hundreds, come as the emerging Adeline Street Corridor is in the midst of certain, though gradual, transformation. The festival is just one of many examples of how neighbors and city officials are looking to give the neighborhood a boost to its economy and its identity. 

Community leaders, business owners and attendees of the festival say some change has been made to the historically struggling section of town but that more work needs to be done. 

According to Sean Vaughn Scott, executive director of the Black Repertory Theatre on Adeline Street, change is a necessary part of the growth of the district. But Scott says he does not want to see the area change so much that it loses its distinct and local character. 

“I don’t want to see this area become a 4th Street,” he said. 

Scott would like to see the theater, which featured a jazz set, barbecue and a number of performances in celebration of the Sunday’s Juneteenth festival, become a center for meetings between local business owners and city officials. 

Houshi Ghaderi, owner of the Vault Cafe on Adeline Street, where the current merchant association meetings take place, says that though efforts have been made, revitalization is a slow process. 

“There has been some slow change but it takes all of the merchants together to get it going. There have been some merchants that have been really dedicated to the process,” Ghaderi said.  

Ghaderi says that he has a steady group of local customers and even some from the Berkeley hills who enjoy the health conscious selection of pastas and salads at the family style cafe. While Ghaderi says that he has not seen a significant increase in customers as a result of revitalization efforts he feels that both the city and the police department have worked to improve the area.  

“The police have really been working on crime in the area,” Ghaderi said. "They’ve definitely been doing a lot of work but it take a long time to change things. You’ve just got to be patient." 

Merchants say that the neighborhood’s reputation in the past for criminal activity has caused developers to shy away. The Berkeley Police Department has cited the intersection of Fairview Street and Adeline as a high crime area. 

“It’s not a struggle but it’s definitely a challenge,” Ghaderi admits. 

Sunday’s Festival provided west Berkeley resident Artensia Bary an opportunity to enjoy the afternoon and see some of the changes to south Berkeley. 

“Today has been really exciting and really educational. I know they’ve added a retirement home and free senior clinic and a few apartments in the neighborhood but it’s still been a very slow, gradual change,” Bary said. 

For Thomas Maxwell, Berkeley resident for more than 40 years, Sunday was a chance to celebrate African American history and freedom from slavery. According to Maxwell, the district does not need wholesale change though fixing a few pot holes would be nice. 

“ I think most of the local businesses are pretty established and will stay around,” Maxwell added. 

Other groups attending the day-long celebration included the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation, the Lawrence Hall of Science, the Wee Poets television poetry program and the Berkeley Police and Fire departments.