First Ward community picnic features politics, neighborhood fun

Saturday, July 26, 2008 | 9:56 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Dance music, barbecue and politicians all came together on a muggy Saturday evening for a community picnic at Douglass Park. Organized by Margaret-Marie Hickem-Smith, Willie Smith and 23rd District House candidate Stephen Webber, the event gave local and national political campaigns the opportunity to mingle with First Ward residents. But it was much more than a "get-out-the-vote" effort.

"What we're trying to do is set a standard, a precedent," Smith said. "We're just trying to get people acquainted with each other."

Smith said he wants the First Ward to have more of a "village concept" and has been disappointed with the lack of leadership in the community. He and his wife, Margaret-Marie, have held similar events in Douglass Park and at her business, Mama Bessie's Cleaners, in an attempt to bring the community together and create unity, he said.

"The First Ward has really been forgotten," Smith said. "Margaret and I have been waiting for the leadership in the community to step up. Since the community did not respond to our requests, I said, ‘I'll stand up and organize.'"

The picnic featured short stump speeches, voter registration, sack racing, barbecue and a dance contest. At one point, the DJ, Annette Driver, called all the children forward and asked, "If you go and vote, do you think your vote counts?"

She then gave a small talk on the importance of voting.

"Do you know what you need to do to be able to vote when you turn 18?" Driver asked. "You can't break the law so you can maintain your right to vote. It jeopardizes your rights for the future."

Eric Collins, Hickem-Smith's cousin, is visiting from Dallas and helped her set up the event. "She's always trying to help her community, whether it's through baby-sitting, loaning money or bringing unity to the community through these events," Collins said.

"Because she came from a family of 10, she's always had to be the person looking out for everyone," Collins said. "Since she started her own business, she's been able to help out the community in more ways than just cleaning. She's a very concerned person."

Smith said politicians have been locked out of the community, but it hasn't been because their ears aren't open.

"When you give these people a forum, they'll do it," he said. "I just want the community to get excited about a vote."

Hickem-Smith said Saturday's picnic was a success, and hopes to have similar ones in the future.

"It's a get-out-the-vote and keeping the kids and the community together," she said. "This is a good start. If we can pull everyone together to do different things, we can begin to pull the community together."


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