CLEWISTON -- The Brown Sugar Festival Committee arrived with petitions in hand, at the meeting of the Hendry Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on Tuesday, April 13. Signatures filled the petitions, in support of holding this year’s Brown Sugar Festival starting on May 1, despite a recent notice from the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) that expressed how difficult it would be to cover the event.
“We had an overwhelming support from Faceboook,” said Brown Sugar Festival founder, Gwen Patrick-Griffiths, “and we had 200, almost 300 petitions signed, and there are more out there.”
She went on to explain that there will not be a parade during the Brown Sugar Festival this year, but that all of the other traditional activities were planned. The festival is planned as a much smaller than normal version of the event, due to the dangers and complications of the pandemic.
There was some discussion about the Hendry County Sheriff's Office being able to cover the event. Commissioner Karson Turner disagreed, saying he did not believe that was what was said. He said it was more a discussion about the difficulty of providing security for the festival on such short notice, if the volume of people in attendance matched that of years past.
“I think we have a community saying they wanna have a festival, and I don’t know how we can tell them no,” argued Turner.
HCSO Chief Kevin Nelson explained, “Your decision tonight will drive our response. Two weeks ago, I told you that it would be near impossible to prepare for it.” He went on to say they would be ill prepared to protect the residents at this point.
Patrick-Griffiths mentioned that there would also be a Juneteenth Festival held the following month, a similar event to the Brown Sugar Festival, that had no objections.
Commissioner Emma Byrd said that there had not been communication from the Brown Sugar Festival committee about a request for a special permit.
“We didn’t submit a permit because we were told we couldn’t," Patrick-Griffiths said.
The explanation for this was that, due to COVID, special permits were not being issued. However, things have been changing daily as the pandemic persists.
"The way I look at it, is this - we can try to facilitate and help the Harlem community to have a festival that’s been going on longer than I have been on the planet. Or we can take a step back, and we can watch a festival occur, “ said Turner. “But I don’t know how we can legally tell people, tax payers, in our community that they can’t access certain grounds and what not that are open to the public.” He went on to say, “The last thing I wanna come across is being disrespectful to the sheriff, or the county deputies, or the City of Clewiston Police Department.”
The Florida Health Department will be present to disseminate educational information regarding COVID-19, helping people register vaccines.
Byrd asked, “Miss Patrick, what do you all need from us. What do you all want to do?”
“We never really need anything from you all except for your blessings. We just need your support,” said Patrick-Griffiths.
After some discussion about filing proper paperwork, for a special permit, the BOCC agreed that the festival would be allowed to be held with the application fees waived. A representative from Waste Connections stepped up to offer a $2,500 donation towards the Brown Sugar Festival.
Shortly after the meeting, the Brown Sugar Festival commitee announced on Facebook, "It’s official we’re having a Brown Sugar Festival 2021! A big shout out to Florida Waste Management for a donation of $2,500.
All vendors fees will be one flat rate of $200. This fee is only for 2021 Vendors
Contact information 863-228-3982 @ Yolonda Ford or 863-677-1049 Gwendolyn Patrick. Money orders for vendors fee made out to: Harlem Academy Alumni Association Post Box 1512, Clewiston, Florida 33440
"You have to have a permit to sale or the county will shut you down on Saturday, May 1, 2021," the Facebook post stated.