City 'shakes up' annual Unity Day

Celebrating diversity and unity is nothing new for Newton, but as the city began planning this year's Unity Day it decided the annual event needed a little something extra.

"We are trying to do something a little different," said Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax, who is chair of the Newton Human Relations Council, which organizes Unity Day. "We wanted to try to shake it up and make it a more festive atmosphere."

This year's Unity Day event is set for Saturday, 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., at Southside Park, and it promises musical entertainment, food and fun.

The event is free to the public.

The outdoor setting, combined with a festival atmosphere marks a change for the city's celebration of its diverse ethnic and racial population.

During recent years, the event was held indoors at the Newton-Conover Auditorium. Heavy on pomp and circumstance, the event was more formal occasion than festival.

"We thought it should be more of a celebration," said Newton Public Information Officer and Human Relations Council member Gary Herman. "We are removing the formality of it, and it is going to be a more festive atmosphere at the park. We hope it will be more of a fun day and a good way to celebrate diversity in an outdoor setting."

While Newton Human Relations Council moved Unity Day outdoors, it also moved it on the schedule. In the past, the event was held in mid-February.

"The second Sunday in February is not traditionally the most beautiful time, weatherwise," Mullinax said of the schedule change. "I hope this gives an opportunity for folks to come and get outside, enjoy the events and the enjoy the spring time. I hope there will be more families and more children."

When they get to Southside Park, there will also be more for event-goers to do, Herman said.

"A big thing for the kids will be the inflatables," he said. "There will be face-painting, the fire department's smokehouse and a Newton Police car will be there so they can test the siren.

"The amphitheater is going to be going non-stop with acts all day," Herman continued. "It is going to be a great day of wonderful entertainment."

From dancers and gospel groups to steel drum bands, Carolina Renaissance Festival performers and yodelers, Herman said the event has "something for everyone."

Food will also be available for sale, including ethnic foods, like Mexican and Chinese selections, to festival foods, pizza and barbecue.

With a theme of "One Community, One Humanity," Saturday's event will also includes presentation of the Unity Day Award. The award is presented annually to an "individual, business or industry that has demonstrated outstanding service to the Newton community and that has worked to improve relations among cultures and races in the city."