Celebrating the Fourth of July the Greenbelt Way
A review of the holiday and the community it encourages.
Grilled hotdogs wrapped in bacon, vegan blueberry crumble with coconut milk ice cream, Frederick Douglass’s “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” and a vibrantly participatory community drumming circle... these unrelated threads all came together into the harmonious whole that made up my glorious Fourth of July in Greenbelt, Maryland.
My personal celebration actually started on the third of July, at the fifth annual “Liquid Walt,” a bagel brunch and Walt Whitman poetry reading. Fourteen friends, nearly half from Greenbelt, gathered in the Riverdale living room of Abby Wilkerson and Pat McGann.
We feasted on bagels, deviled eggs and salads prepared with seasonal, locally grown CSA produce. While we ate, we talked, laughed and read aloud Whitman poems, Frederick Douglass’s address and the works of contemporary poets, such as Austin, Texas native Albert Huffstickler and Greenbelt’s Mark Christal.
As each selection flowed seamlessly into the next, we contemplated a man’s life well lived. We also considered how our reality has not always lived up to the “promise of a universal democratic ideal,” as one participant put it – even as we basked in the warmth and comfort of our shared communal ritual.
But what’s Fourth of July without cookouts and fireworks? The actual Monday holiday brought plenty of both, and even these traditional events had a Greenbelt twist.
During the hazy humid day, I attended two barbecues, greeted old friends and chatted with neighbors. Hosts served vegan salads and homemade salsa, as well as grilled hotdogs and barbecued pork. Guests discussed local politics and speculated about possible business ventures for the vacant space at Roosevelt Center.
I left the second barbecue early to catch the city-sponsored celebration at Buddy Attick Park, including hula hoop demonstrations and a community drumming circle.
Children of all ages and races swirled and shimmied with hula hoops, as master hooper Noell Powers taught the audience how to work the brightly striped hoops. The hoopers responded to what fellow festivity-goer, Lore Rosenthal, called the drummers’ percussive world beat. And the drummers improvised to the hoopers’ sinuous movements.
And the drumming — oh the drumming — the hypnotic, mesmerizing drumming filled air and spirit.
Energetic drum circle leader Katy Gaughan led the drummers in several call-and-response sequences. But she generously shared the spotlight with others: didgeridoo player Chris Colvin, belly dancer Kristen Arant, and flutists Kweku Owusu and Joe Kennedy, Jr.
In one set, singers chanted, “I put my roots down, down into the earth.” Dancing young children weaved in and out and sometimes joined in: playing drums and other percussion instruments that the seasoned drummers shared with novices. The line between audience and performer blurred. It was late afternoon magic.
Although not everyone was equally enchanted with the drumming. Lisa Heaton, the wife of a Greenbelt concert band saxophone player, observed that the drum performance “goes on longer and longer every year.”
As the crowd waited for darkness and fireworks, children and teenagers practiced juggling with professional Clown Greg May and the Greenbelt concert band entertained us with old favorites and patriotic songs — among them the “Star Spangled Banner,” Sousa marches, a medley of Civil War songs to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, “Over the Rainbow,” and Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”
Introduced by a “Welcome, Greenbelt” light display, the Greenbelt City fireworks show did not disappoint. Although, Rosenthal suggested it was not as extensive as in past years.
For a few seconds it seemed like the light drizzle of rain might evolve into a downpour, but the show went forward. The colorful chrysanthemum starbursts of light were enhanced by the free 3D glasses that volunteers handed out at the park’s entrance.
And probably because of the rain, there were a few false dramatic firework endings, even after the “Good Night” light display came up. It was almost like watching a great movie and staying until the very end of the credits, in the hope that you’ll be rewarded with a funny outtake, and you get to see several.
As I look back on the full and happy holiday, the moments that stand out are the rituals of friendship and community. And I realize that we came together to celebrate, in the words of drummer and Greenbelt resident Amethyst Dwyer — not “our independence, but our interdependence” as a community, as a nation, as a world.
Happy Interdependence Day, Greenbelters.