Dec. 16, 2003 – Compared to other Christmas celebrations around town this season, the mood was a bit more restrained Monday night at We From Upstreet's annual lighting of the trees in Roosevelt Park.
There was no Santa with hundreds of presents, nor were there food vendors or artists with tables displaying their wares. Instead the event had more of an adult feel, more of a neighborhood feel. There were children, but only a handful.
This observation would probably have sat well with Upstreet's president, Naomi Monsanto, and Roosevelt Park Committee Chair Austin "Babe" Monsanto. After all, We From Upstreets primary focus has been on the Upstreet neighborhood of Charlotte Amalie.
"Upstreet is the area from the post office up to Mafolie, down around Hospital Ground and through Estate Thomas," past president Vernon Finch explained. "We From Upstreet is an organization for people who grew up around here, who used to live here, or who live here now."
Walking away from the bandstand where Milo's Kings had just begun to play, Finch went on: "The idea was to give back to this community right here, give back to this neighborhood that gave so much to all of us." Hence, the different feel at this Christmas party: the neighborhood feel.
Monsanto took a moment to explain the various programs the group has created to serve the needs of this community within a community, saying that the organization currently operates after-school and tutoring programs and offers neighborhood children classes in the traditional West Indian quelbe music and dance.
According to Monsanto, the organization was founded eight years ago by Hillis Lewis Edlen, who saw the need to come together as a community in order to protect and preserve the neighborhood and its people.
Monsanto said that the Roosevelt Park tree lighting provides the organization's members and all of Upstreets neighbors the chance to catch up and see what's going on. "The rest of the year people are busy with work and family, and this night we get an excuse to see each other long enough to stop and talk," she said.
Milo's Kings were the first musicians in the evening's lineup, and the park filled slowly as the band members tuned up their instruments on stage. Several of the earliest arrivals were members of other groups scheduled to perform later on.
A foursome of women from the 30-member Voices of Love chorus gathered in the park early, awaiting the arrival of director Glenn "Kwabena" Davis.
One of the singers, Georgia Gottlieb, said she has been caroling with the group since its first season 26 years ago. She spoke of the Roosevelt Park event as a family event, less about Santa and more about just coming together as a community and being grateful for the blessings of the year.
That sentiment was mirrored in the celebration's opening prayer, which offered thanks and a moment of silence for recently departed members of the neighboood.
However, once Milos Kings struck up a tune, a lighter mood returned to the modest but still-gathering crowd.
The Party Hardy Carolers and the Mungo Niles Quadrille Dancers also performed at the event.
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