Three young boys gathered in front of balloon artist Aaron “Doc” Hay, staring wide in anticipation of the whimsical design he would bring to life.
“Give me three ideas off the top of your head,” Hay said, sparking a flurry of suggestions that may have been more than he expected.
Donut, bird, frog, flower, cookie
The children shouted out the ideas as quickly as they came to them before the first youngster settled on such a common creature as a house fly. Hay worked quickly and within moments the balloon bug buzzed through the boy’s hands – becoming one of dozens of silly balloon animals contributing to the festive atmosphere Tuesday night at the Rickenbacker Woods Foundation on Livingston Avenue.
Residents of the Driving Park neighborhood of the Near East Side had gathered for a National Night Out event, one of many scheduled for Tuesday night not only in Columbus, but across the United States.
As they mostly do on the first Tuesday in August, residents of central Ohio gathered for an evening where they took a stand against crime as they sought to strengthen ties of neighborhood and build trust between the police and the community.
Theodore Decker: Take the time today for National Night Out, a small but relevant gesture
Events planned in cities such as Hilliard and Whitehall featured block party style entertainment with K9 demonstrations, dunk tanks and other games. Residents of central Ohio were also encouraged to leave their porch lights on as a show of solidarity.
“It brings people together, strangers,” said Brett Williams, 62, as his 2-year-old son Benaniah played with other kids in a bouncy house at the Driving Park event. “I hope this will give people a chance to network and get a feel for each other’s character and personality.”
On Rickenbacker Lawn, a disc jockey played music while guests enjoyed the barbecue, children played cornhole, and waders mingled with onlookers.
At the Driving Park event, conversations expanded beyond crime prevention and into the realm of social justice and social equity. Guests were able to learn about a variety of community resources from representatives who set up tables at the event, and they were encouraged to complete an online survey about their relationships with the police.
Morgan Harper, a Columbus lawyer who is a former Democratic congressional candidate, led a discussion with guests based on the prompts to the inquiry.
Seven young people from the Unique Community and Neighborhood Network program offered through the African Personal Development Shop volunteered at the event by serving food.
“We understand that if there is really a change that needs to be made, we need our young people to be part of that conversation,” said Naima Ilmi, program director.
Although the Rickenbacker Woods Foundation Typically hosts a similar family event every September, Tuesday marked the organization’s first National Night Out event, said Mike Aaron, president and CEO of the foundation.
Organizers, which included representatives from other nonprofit groups along Livingston Avenue, felt such an event would be meaningful to the community following a year of racial justice protests at the following police killings of blacks both nationally and to Columbus.
“We’ve had a tumultuous year,” said Aaron. “We want a good relationship with the police; we need the police and we need them to be a partner.”