Summer's Swan song draws neighbors together for block party
When Jerry Smith Jr. moved to Batavia 32 years ago, he enjoyed the friendly, active vibe.
The then-8-year-old Smith would visit the Wing Ding with family and friends, eat good food, enjoy fun activities, and be part of a community spending time together.
He has missed those summer get-togethers of his younger days, he said and decided to do something about it.
Smith organized a block party in his South Swan Street neighborhood Saturday.
“Definitely, when COVID came, people were more separated. It’s the last weekend of the summer to get together,” he said while serving as DJ and selling commemorative T-shirts under a tent in front of his home. “Bringing people together is always my vision. I’ve always been doing this.”
Although the party was a first, Smith has walked his talk as a youth coach for groups such as Batavia Bulldawgs, organizing three-on-three basketball tournaments, “old school barbecues,” and other similar events, he said. When asked if he had family at the event, with outstretched arms, he said, “Pretty much everyone here,” he said. “They’re all family.”
“Hopefully we can make it a bigger event next year, on the last weekend of the summer,” he said.
He estimated about 100 people had attended the first portion of the event, and more were certain to show up later, when The Songbirds, Ray Williams and the All-Stars, and Tray da Don would take to the makeshift stage for live performances.
Smith’s mom, Willeen Woods, sat nearby under another tent as Michael Jackson and other energetic musical artists filled the air from nearby speakers.
“It’s a good day,” Woods said. “I think it’s a good thing.”
After polishing off a hotdog and other foods available by four or five vendors, 10-year-old Derrick Ponder agreed with Wood’s assessment.
“It’s good,” Derrick said, adding that he knows a lot of people at the party. “People are getting together.”
He would come again next year, he said, as he ran off to play with some other kids there.
Myrin and Dannielle Lumpkin live just around the corner, and they had a tent with some fried chicken, and are known for their barbecued, soul and Caribbean fare. The Lumpkins own Mama Dee’z, and have been happy with the interactions and feedback they’ve received at recent events, Myrin said.
“It’s a beautiful thing, this is a nice small town. It’s a beautiful thing when people come together,” he said. “I think it’s worth it. Everything they’re having, we’re going to be there.”
The catering company — soon to be a restaurant with dine-in and take-out available, he said — was at the Italian Festival and plans to pitch a tent at many more warm-weather events in the future.
“We’ll do this again,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the Italian Fest next year, we liked that.”
Any food that doesn’t get sold is given away, he said, to folks who may appreciate some good home cooking.
One attendee who asked to remain anonymous wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about the block party. The “community of Batavia is not getting together,” she said, pointing to what she felt was the lack of diversity at the event. Smith disagrees with that statement.
"I thought it went very well," he said Sunday. "And it was diverse."
Those that did attend seemed to be enjoying themselves, feasting on saucy chicken wings, grilled, barbecued and fried items, talking and joking around with each other and taking in the 80-plus sunny day.
Several years ago, a city initiative was to help organize block parties throughout Batavia. While some streets latched onto the idea of a neighborly gathering, others formed neighborhood cleanups. It didn't blossom universally in the city, but there have been sporadic events ever since, including a block party earlier this summer on the city's east side.
Hopefully, for Smith, his end-of-summer Swan (Street) song brought some of those fond memories back as a first step toward an annual tradition.
Top photo: Organizer Jerry Smith Jr., aka Venue Entertainment, serves up some music at the first-ever Swan Street block party Saturday in Batavia. June June Woods and Carline Santiago keep busy at their food station; Hanna Woods checks out the commemorative Block Party T-shirts that state on the back: Southside Thang; Tyrone Woods enjoys some vendor street fare; and above, Terry Smith fries up some chicken.