People may already be staking out their favorite spots in Whittington Park for Saturday’s fifth annual I’m So Greenwood Family Picnic, a gathering of friends and family from around the county and the country.
Thousands of people are expected to come home to Greenwood where they’ll enjoy some barbecue, renew friendships, relive past glories, add another chapter to their own personal histories and bask in the comfort of family.
Everyone in the park needs to thank Alfonso Gray, also called Andre, also known as Peanut, because the weekend grew out of his frustration. Gray left his home in Greenwood for the big city of Chicago in 1996 but came back to visit every year, only to find his cousin had been in town just the week before, or his favorite auntie would be coming to Greenwood the week after.
He was inspired by the House Party Picnic that draws 30,000 people each summer to a cookout at Jackson Park in Chi-cago. Gray thought if he could have an “official” event, then all his family members would be in the same spot at the same time and he could visit with all of them.
In 2015, the idea became reality, and everyone settled on Memorial Day weekend. Gray said he planned for about 50 to 100 people to hear the call and come to the park. When 1,500 showed up, he said, he was a little overwhelmed.
“We’re expecting somewhere around 5,000 or more” this Saturday, Gray said — a number that he didn’t even consider when he came up with the idea, especially because advertising of the gathering is spread only by word of mouth and through social media, mostly Facebook.
Last year, heavy rains the week before the event left the park a muddy mess, so I’m So Greenwood moved over to the backup location in the parking lot on the north side of the Leflore County Civic Center. After some other spoiled weekends this spring, meteorologists are calling for clear skies through this weekend with highs in the 90s.
Organization of the event sounds fairly easy, because Gray wisely didn’t start out providing food and drinks for picnic-goers.
People are responsible for bringing their own food, grills, drinks, lawn chairs, tables, canopy tents, games and whatever they need to enjoy the day.
“I’m just supplying the music and the port-a-potties,” he said. The music is played by volunteer DJs, which means anyone who thinks they have the skills and talents can take an hour to entertain thousands, with music ranging from old school soul to hip hop and maybe even some new hip hop ventures into country.
Whittington Park will be available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Gray said, but he also allowed that some people are so attached to their favorite spot they’ve been known to camp out Friday night. Others will come on Friday evening to set up a canopy tent and a few chairs to hold their place, which Gray knows in Chicago is called “dibs,” as in “I got dibs on that spot; don’t nobody else take it.”
If you’re in Whittington Park on Saturday and want to thank Gray, just ask for Peanut, and you’ll find him among his relatives.
“My family will be at least 100 deep,” he said, adding that a relative from Minnesota was due in Greenwood on Wednesday while he was driving down Thursday to get ready for the weekend.
•Contact Gavin Maliska at 581-7235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.