Inwood Community Celebrates Fifth Annual Multicultural Unity Event
by James Coulter
What do Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas all have in common? They’re all islands within the Caribbean. They’re also countries where many residents from the Inwood community once lived.
Inwood may be a small neighborhood in Winter Haven, but with many of its residents having arrived from countries in the Caribbean, Central America, and Asia, their small community is home to people from all over a big world.
Last Saturday, this small community celebrated their rich multicultural heritage during their fifth annual Multicultural Unity Event, hosted by the Association for Inwood Community.
With nearly 7,000 people living within the neighborhood south of Winter Haven, many of them arrived at Westwood Park for an afternoon of food, fun, and games, all for the purpose of bringing people together to celebrate their community of diverse backgrounds.
One of the big highlights of the day were several musical performances with little children showcasing the clothing and dances of their native cultures, with many of the children coming from families who once lived in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and other countries within Central and South America.
When not busy appreciating the different cultures of their fellow residents, attendees at the event could also peruse the many vendors at the park, with nearly a dozen local organizations showcasing services available to the community and general public.
“This is a mixed community, so we want everybody to get together and get to know their backgrounds,” explained Minnie Hassel, President of the Association for Inwood Community. “My goal is to have this huge community of [nearly] 10,000 people to get together and participate in everything…[and to learn about] all the things that the county provides for them.”
Many of the organizations attending were churches, many of whom were planting themselves in the local community to help meet their spiritual and material needs. One such church, Multiply Christian Church, set up a special tent to allow mothers the privacy to change diapers and breastfeed.
Jasen and Julie Whiting, both volunteers from the church, mentioned how they attended the event to help spread the message about their church family and how they are more than willing to help others within the local community at events such as this and through services such as their food pantry on Thursdays.
“It is about getting involved with the community and helping provide support for them,” Jasen said. “We want to differentiate ourselves from other churches in that we want to give back to the community…to provide for their physical needs as well as spiritual needs.”
Chris Young, Pastor of The Way of Inwood Church, two blocks away from the park, had recently moved to the community about three months ago. He decided to help spread the word of his church by providing a bounce house and helping attendees fill out surveys about their local community.
“It is a great community from what I can tell,” he said. “There is a lot of diversity and culture and people, and I am excited to be here and see what the Lord will allow me to do. My biggest thing is that we are always pointing the way to Jesus.”
Since its start five years ago, the Multicultural Unity Event has grown in the number of vendors and attendees. The annual event is hosted, not only to help celebrate the diversity of the local community but to bring the community together to help learn about their needs.
The event is hosted by the Association for Inwood Community, a non-profit association dedicated to helping bring the community together and improve it for all of the residents. They fulfill their mission through partnerships with code enforcement and local law enforcement to help better meet their local needs.
Some of the needs of the Inwood community include better street lighting, sidewalk pavement, and a community center. The center especially is something that the association has been working to obtain, which would provide local residents a place to host community events and partake in other activities, explained Bettie Harrel-Jones, Association Secretary.
For many local children, the only other place to go after school is the Boys and Girls Club along Havendale Boulevard, which is a long walking distance from the neighborhood. As such, having a local place for them would grant them better after school opportunities, she said.
“Our kids have no place to play ball, no place to go after school,” she said. “So if we can get the community involved, the county will see the need. So we want more involvement from the community so we can show the county our needs out here.”
In order for such improvements to be made to their local community, residents need to come together to events such as this to help show county officials that their neighborhood is vibrant and deserving of better accommodations, Hassle said.
“We need the community to come forward and understand what we are trying to do for them,” she said. “I want more participation from the community, and it is hard to reach out in this community, but I do not give up, I just continue.”