EUSTIS, Florida—The crowds were large Saturday and the weather was beautiful for the 28th Annual Eustis African American Heritage Celebration.
Beginning with a parade of nearly 150 entries, paradegoers were treated to candy and appearances by Parade Marshal Verma Evans, the Eustis African American Heritage Festival Committee, Eustis Junior Panthers players and cheerleaders, Magic Boyz, along with Eustis City Commissioners, Eustis Police Department, Eustis Fire Department and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. For the second year running, Inside Lake participated in the parade.
The fragrance of all the scrumptious food available at the festival wafted through the air during the parade enticing festivalgoers. Turkey wings, BBQ ribs, chicken, macaroni and cheese, collards and baked beans were being served up at many of the food tents and food trucks set up at the festival.
There was a bounce house and snow cones for the kids and signups were available for Eustis Junior Panthers football and merchandise from numerous vendors was available for purchase. Darius Kerrison, organizer of the House of Laughter was out promoting his Eustis Hometown Comedy & Music Festival scheduled for April 1 in Ferran Park. Free tickets are available and VIP tickets are available for $25; for information and tickets, visit Eustis Hometown Comedy & Music Festival
The Eustis African-American Heritage Celebration began in 1995 as UNITY—United Neighbors In Touch with the Youth, founded by Vivian “Carla” Mitchell, Patricia Wright and Kimberly Kelly Cameron in the wake of the tragic kidnappings and shootings of Dorothy Lewis and her daughters, Jamilya, 7 and Jasmine, 3. Dorothy survived her horrific injuries, the two sisters did not. Last month marked 30 years since one of Lake County’s most horrific crimes.
The tragic event shook the community to its core, Mitchell, who serves as president, told Inside Lake in 2022. “Our whole world stood still. The leaves weren’t even blowing on the trees. The community just stood still; we were in a state of shock.”
The trio of ladies came together and formed UNITY which included a parade down Bates Avenue and ended with a festival, celebrating the achievements of African-American residents of Eustis and nearly 30 years later, the core values and core events of the celebration are still in place today. In 1995, the celebration committee members began holding a banquet to commemorate the honorees and provide youth with the opportunity to attend a banquet. The youth ticket comes at a price, however, Mitchell said. Each child who wanted to attend the banquet is required to attend an etiquette class at Mitchell’s home.
Mitchell, who has lived all of her 79 years in Eustis, still carries the inspiring words her great-grandmother gave to her many years ago, “Be Strong, be educated and be a part of the decision-making process. I try to live up to that.”