South Park Day & Night Festival honors Vince Harper

Members of the South Park neighborhood gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park to connect with community resources, eat food and honor a local legend.|

South Park neighborhood residents gathered at the South Park Day & Night Festival in Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park Saturday to connect with community resources, eat food and honor local legend Vince Harper.

Neighbors moved along with a dance exercise class, nibbled food from local vendors and visited various booths, including a COVID-19 vaccination clinic, such advocacy groups as the NAACP and Latino Service Providers, as well as the Santa Rosa police and fire departments.

“I’m really happy to be here,” said Laura Soloiro, 58, enjoying a taco at one of the park benches with her two grandchildren and her mother. “We’ve learned a lot of information about self and care ... We’re grateful.”

Harper, who died last November, launched the festival 13 years ago after increased gang violence rattled the neighborhood, said Annette Arnold, project lead of the South Park Coalition. He wanted to bring a sense of community and safety to the community.

South Park is behind the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. In the 1940s and ‘50s, many Black families lived there. Today, most of its residents are Latino families.

Harper, considered one of the city’s most influential community leaders, was a longtime employee at Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County. He dedicated decades of his life to help low-income locals and at-risk youth.

“Everything (Harper) did, his entire existence, was for the community,” said Katie Watts-Whitaker, communications manager for CAPS Sonoma County, which had a booth at the festival. “Everything that this event stands for is really him.”

Watts-Whitaker said they dedicated the Head Start preschool building in the park to Harper and also added his face to a mural on the building, which features local and national civil rights figures and community members.

Vince Harper, assistant director of community engagement for Community Action Partnership, in front of the Santa Rosa mural after it was vandalized in 2016
Vince Harper, assistant director of community engagement for Community Action Partnership, in front of the Santa Rosa mural after it was vandalized in 2016

Harper was someone who would take kids in the South Park neighborhood to dinner and all of them would call him “Dad,” which would confuse the servers because they looked nothing like him, said Laura Larque, a neighbor at the event.

“Vince Haper was someone with true heart for the community,” said Santa Rosa Police Chief John Cregan who said he had the pleasure to work with Harper for years. He remembers Harper running around at past Day & Night festivals

“He always had that beaming smile and he would be giving out hugs.”

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8511 or alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @alana_minkler.

Alana Minkler

Breaking news & general assignment reporter, The Press Democrat

The world is filled with stories that inspire compassion, wonder, laughs and even tears. As a Press Democrat reporter covering breaking news, tribes and youth, it’s my goal to give others a voice to share these stories.

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