When Fazlul Kabir was campaigning for a seat on the College Park City Council last fall, there was one refrain he heard from residents over and over: the cultural fabric of College Park was changing. The city had seen a recent increase in Hispanics, Asians and other groups, Kabir said, and not all residents were happy with the presence of their new neighbors. Paired with the ongoing tension between students and longtime residents, it became clear to Kabir, himself a native of Bangladesh, that there was a rift in need of reparation.
"I heard some complaints that [residents] were not quite happy with new people who were moving in," Kabir said. "I saw that there was a cultural gap."
Kabir didn't win the election, but he did continue to think about College Park's various factions and what could be done to bring them together. He toyed with the idea of a multicultural day - something that would help introduce College Park residents not only to each other, but also to each other's cultures.
Around the same time, Joe Smith was bemoaning the loss of Taste of College Park, an annual event where local restaurants set up tents and sold food in the parking lot of City Hall. The event was halted due lack of funding, but Smith was not content to just let College Park's efforts at community togetherness die.
Councilman Patrick Wojahn (Dist. 1) caught wind of this desire for a united College Park – both Kabir and Smith were active bloggers – and suggested that the two work together to create a new event that would bring the community together.
"When Patrick heard about it, he suggested we put our money where our mouths were," Smith said.
A string of emails was exchanged and before long, the initial planning meeting was scheduled. Its attendees consisted only of five people – Smith, Kabir, Wojahn, Councilwoman Chrisine Nagle (Dist. 1) and College Park Public Services Director Bob Ryan. The only item on the agenda was to come up with a name.
"At first we were thinking of calling it something like "Multicultural Day," Kabir said. "But in the end we decided to keep it simple." And thus, College Park Day was born.
Over the months that followed, interest in College Park Day began to take off. Attendance at meetings swelled, committees were formed and the structure of College Park Day took shape. The date for the event was scheduled for Oct. 9.
On Saturday, the College Park Community Center will be stuffed with food vendors, booths from local organizations, games for children, and, of course, plenty of tributes to College Park's diverse cultural makeup. Local school children participated in a poster contest depicting their heritage and attendees will be asked to identify where they're from on a giant map. A slideshow will play in the background, showcasing original photographs from College Park's early days. In short, College Park Day will have something for everyone.
"Our community is changing, and we have so many different people with diverse backgrounds," Kabir said. 'The city has a very rich history and heritage, and this event will help celebrate that by bringing all of its residents together at the same time."
However, this is not the first effort that has been made to revitalize the city's sense of identity. The Experience and Enjoy College Park Tour is a monthly meet-up where residents are invited to gather in a local eatery and socialize in a casual setting. And in September, the inaugural Welcome Back Students event was held in the parking lot of City Hall as a means of amending the somewhat tumultuous relationship between students and police.
Are College Park's efforts at community-building paying off? Hopefully, said Smith.
"I wouldn't go so far as to call it a College Park renaissance." Smith said. "But perhaps some good things are finally happening. When good things happen, that tends to breed more good things."
College Park Day will be held from 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. at the College Park Community Center at 5051 Pierce Avenue, across the street from Paint Branch Elementary School. For more information, visit www.collegeparkday.org
Corrections: An earlier version of this story cited Fazlul Kabir as being a native of Bangalore. Kabir is from Bangladesh. Also, Christine Nagle is a councilwoman for Dist. 1, not Dist. 4.