York City seeks healing through first ever 'Unity Fest'

York-based seven-piece  band RalphReal and The Family Jam took the stage about noon Saturday, delivering some funk and R&B at PeoplesBank Park in York City  — part of a day-long music festival dubbed "Unity Fest."

Coco Shantelle — one of the group's vocalists — said that message is "something that everyone should listen to."

Coco Shantelle, of RalphReal and the Family Jam, performs during Unity Music Fest, presented by Checkmate Entertainment, at PeoplesBank Park in York City, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Checkmate Entertainment — a regional concert producer — presented the festival with the idea of celebrating community diversity through four different genres: rock, Latin, trap and R&B/hip-hop.

"A lot of times people of color don't have an opportunity to come downtown," said Eli Kinnard III, promotional strategists manager for Checkmate.

The festival encourages people to gather outside of their neighborhoods and interact with others, he said.

More than 400 people bought tickets for the first-ever Unity Fest on Saturday, Aug. 10, said Checkmate founder and president, Marion Kinard.

Unity Fest drew about 30 local artists, in addition to Grammy-nominated international reggaeton and trap artist Noriel, headlining the festival along with Juhn El Allstar, Papoose and Jim Jones.

Some came simply to support local artists and enjoy the music, while  others came out  to celebrate family.

Vanessa Howard came from Baltimore and brought the whole family to see her son Terelle Harris perform as "Texas P." 

"With everything going on, we need all the support we can get from each other," she said, noting that people are not getting support from their leaders.

The festival took place against the backdrop of  recent mass shootings that left 31 dead in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio,  and a rise in white ethno-nationalism.

Unity has been a focus in York City since 2016, when a small group of Yorkers came together to encourage inclusion after what they felt was a divisive presidential election campaign.

More:Yorkers march for unity

A yearlong push for 10,000 acts of kindness will culminate Sept. 15, as county and city residents come together for a meal in Penn Park, celebrating the small ways in which communities can support one another.

The 50th anniversary of the York race riots this year drew conversations on how far the city has come since then and how much work still needs to be done.

"We didn't want York to be known as... the '69 riots" Kinnard said.

More:Has anything changed 50 years after York burned?

More:'History does not repeat itself; people repeat history'

Residents of the inner city see a divide and want to see a change, Kinnard said. But local efforts, such as The Movement with Tonya Larry and those of York-based activist Fred Walker, as well as local churches, have made headway, he said. 

Some have criticized recent rhetoric by President Donald Trump for stirring up violence among the American people.

More:Trump’s divisive words collide with his call for unity

The president has referred to immigrants as “invaders,” told  Democratic members of  Congress and women of color to return to their home countries and called majority-black Baltimore a "rat" infested disaster.

Recent polling from the Pew Research Center showed 78% of U.S. adults see a link between negative rhetoric about minority groups from elected officials and violence against those groups, according to The Associated Press.

Howard said the country is very divided, but the attention should be drawn toward unity.

"Some people are so insecure," she said, "because they like to see that division — because they feel like they're winning."

Next year, the plan is to hold a two-day event, Kinnard said, which might explore a theme other than music. But it will always be focused on unity.