Saturday's wet weather couldn't prevent people with a passion for the history of St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood from reconnecting.
Though thunderstorms canceled the morning parade, once the rain receded, community members still came out to the 36th annual Rondo Days Festival.
The yearly event celebrates the Rondo neighborhood, a predominantly black community that was largely bulldozed for construction of Interstate 94 in the late 1960s. The freeway separated neighborhoods, displaced residents and led to the closure of black businesses.
Lynn Wright was 13 when the construction began. She remembers the loss of a grocery store, a barbershop and a hardware store.
"What's so sad is it moved all the people we grew up with on the other side of the freeway out of the neighborhood," Wright said.
Wright has been to all but one Rondo Days celebration. The event reunites her with others from the area and serves as an avenue to educate young people.
"It's important for these kids to know what Rondo was about … they don't have any idea about Rondo, what it did to our community," Wright said.
Tim Simmons isn't quite as old as I-94. But he's lived in Rondo his whole life, and he too has seen the community change.
"It has evolved over the years, you know, some good, some bad," Simmons said. "We had communities, we had villages, and now they're gone."
Gentrification continues to squeeze longtime residents. Wright said she regularly receives notices in her door with offers to purchase her home.
"Instead of us knowing each other coming down the block, now we all have picket fences," Simmons said of the changes over the years.
Simmons is passionate about Rondo Days, where the fences between people all seem to come down.
"It must be understood by everyone who comes to the festivities, the history of Rondo," he said. "I can talk to our young brothers and sisters and let them know, 'Hey, this is our history.' "
On Saturday, neighbors laughed, talked and reconnected. Vendors shared resources, and food trucks sold lemonade and deep-fried pound cake.
Several members of Mentoring Young Adults passed out buttons for the group's anti-violence summit Guns Down St. Paul. Founder Dora Jones-Robinson wept as she passed out buttons. "Please," she said. "Wear them."
Jones-Robinson's niece was killed two years ago. Soon after, she began organizing a local movement against violence in St. Paul.
She noted that over the weekend, St. Paul had another homicide. A woman was found dead in a home in Frogtown on Friday.
"We've got to stop killing each other," she said.
But the atmosphere at Rondo Days was largely positive. The rain had cleared, and it looked like the sun was coming out from behind the clouds, a man commented to a friend.
"It bridges the gap with St. Paul and Minneapolis," Simmons said. "It's especially for people my age [to] come here and get to enjoy the festivities. It's like a reunion."
Zoë Jackson • 612-673-7112