Sulphur Springs LiT Block Party showcases community’s spirit

   The people of Sulphur Springs recently brought to life what they have known all along: this historic district is not just a collection of houses and businesses or a simple North Tampa neighborhood.

   It’s a community, and the community showcased its abundance of love at the recent Sulphur Springs LiT Block Party, which drew hundreds to a fun-filled event in front of the United Way Suncoast Sulphur Springs resource center on Aug. 26. 

   Spurred by the Sulphur Springs Neighborhood of Promise and more than two-dozen community organizations, the event celebrated the best of the neighborhood while promoting student literacy, arts and culture. Attendees reveled over free hamburgers, hot dogs, PDQ chicken strips – with Kona Ice and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for dessert.

   Hip-hop artists, spoken word poets and the Higher Calling drumline joined DJ Diwrection in providing entertainment.

Positive Message

   Most importantly, parents, community members all benefited. Adults took home guidance about organizations eager to help fuel their aspirations. Children took home backpacks full of goodies and books that will energize their imaginations and foster their memories of one grand afternoon.

Jacqueline Leeks, Kimberly Miller

   “It’s going to tell them my community is concerned about my reading,” Sulphur Springs Neighborhood of Promise executive director Jacqueline Leeks said of the children. “It’s going to tell them my community comes together for a positive, and not just when there’s drama.”

   Leeks and her Neighborhood of Promise team consisting of UWS, Tampa Metro YMCA, Champions For Children, City of Tampa, Parks and Rec and a host of other community organizations, including residents, came together to bring about the event. Many of the nonprofits set up tables at the block party, distributing tokens of appreciation and information about their services. Other participating organizations: Urban Book Squad, In The Field, MyOn by Renaissance, Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County, PCAT Literacy, Family Healthcare Foundation, City of Tampa Water Department, CDC of Tampa, Tampa Police and Tampa Fire, We Write Here Kitchen Table Literary Arts, Feeding Tampa Bay, Girl Scouts of West Central Florida, Children’s Network of Hillsborough County.

Brimming with Confidence

   The event proved heartwarming for neighborhood members like Hope Kiriisa, who once guided teens at the city’s George Bartholomew Center and now works as a project manager at Centene, a managed health care company.

   “I love community events like this,” said Hope, who purchased a home in Sulphur Springs in 2022. “It makes me feel good about Sulphur Springs. It does get a bad reputation, but people on the outside don’t get to see what’s really going on.”

   Hope credits her work at the city with giving her the confidence to be a voice when she steps into a conference room at Centene. The LiT Block Party organizers want to see more Sulphur Springs adults and children make similar transitions.

‘We Are Awake’

   Yuki Jackson, a spoken word poet, delivered just such a message with the inspiring delivery of her poem. She shares a love for the community and its children, and she challenged the attendees to transform oppression into empowerment.

Yuri Jackson stirs the crowd.

   We are not woke

   We are awake.

   As in a wake

   As in those ocean waves

   Created when a vessel moves through a medium.

   Yuki also assisted in organizing the event, including rounding up fellow entertainers CTL Smooth, Chris Davis, Ardail Eternal, Eman Drums and Nexis Minati.

Called To Serve

   United Way Suncoast’s Kimberly Miller helped initiate the first LiT Block Party in 2019 and played a vital role in restoring it this year after a three-year hiatus because of the pandemic. She couldn’t have been more pleased.

   “It was amazing,” Kimberly said, fighting back emotions. “It was everything I hoped for. I really enjoyed seeing neighbors meeting new neighbors and kids having a good time. When we started, I was just hoping people would come. And they came.”

   Coincidentally, Kimberly’s role will shift from managing United Way Suncoast’s Sulphur Springs Resource Center to overseeing workforce development at all three of its centers. However, as a member of the community’s Neighborhood of Promise Leadership Council, she’ll continue to help plan future LiT events and looks forward to being a part of its growing evolution.

   Says Kimberly: “Sulphur Springs is not a neighborhood where I am assigned to work. Rather, it’s a community where I’m called to serve.”

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