01-04-12-city-embraces.jpgGiven the size of Fayetteville — a little more than 200,000 citizens according to the 2010 census — and the many nationalities that make up the population, it just makes sense that the city chooses to celebrate its diversity and cherish the strength that comes from being a city with such a large international influence.

Fort Bragg adds richness to the ethnic and cultural composition of our population. Military-connected students are more than 20 percent of the school district’s enrollment. More than 40 languages are spoken by students in local schools ranging from Spanish to Farsi. The ethnic composition of local schools consists of 63 percent minority populations.The city is so dedicated to embracing its diversity, that in September 2011, the Fayetteville City Council gave formal support to the State proclamation that declares September as Diversity Month. The celebration of diversity month goes hand-in-hand with the community’s own celebration — the International Folk Festival.

The State proclamation reads, “cities and towns across our state will celebrate … by encouraging citizens to have lunch and open a dialogue with someone from a different background during the month of September and throughout the year.” The International Folk Festival, which was held Friday, Sept. 23 through Sunday, Sept. 25, offered local citizens the chance to not only initiate such a conversation, but to experience some of the customs practiced by citizens in the All-America City.

This is fitting, as Fayetteville can best be described as a cultural mosaic and is, in fact, statistically the fourth most diverse city in the country.

The State proclamation speaks to that kind of diversity: “our cities and towns reflect the ethnicities, cultures, religions, orientations and abilities of many people living out the promises of a nation founded on the premise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.”

The Arts Council Fayetteville Cumberland County is especially good at showcasing the beauty and differences of the many nationalities found locally.

The organization funds much of the artistic and cultural activity in the area and sponsors exhibits and festivals throughout the year. Operating grants for things like the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, local theaters and arts organizations make the quality of life better for everyone and contribute to the many reasons Fayetteville won the All America City Award for the third time.

A sure sign of the community’s dedication to celebrating its heritage and culture occurs every fall. For more than three decades, the Arts Council has hosted the International Folk Festival, which is a weekend celebration of diversity and culture. The event includes a parade that showcases local cultural groups. Participants wear the ceremonial dress of their native countries and sing and dance as they make their way down the city center in a Parade of Nations. As the festival continues, Festival Park fills with people eager to try cuisine from the many nations represented in the various celebrations. The stages overflow with dancers in colorful costumes and melodies from around the world fill the air.

Fayetteville residents have the opportunity to share their unique heritage and culture with their neighbors. School children get to see their classmates in a new light. They see them not as the kid who sits next to them in class, but as the kid who has an exotic and rich hertiage, and as a kid who honors that heritage.

In addition to participating in the International Folk Festival, many local cultural clubs host events throughout the year and invite the public to partake in the festivities.

In the fall the Greek community spends a weekend sharing their love of people, music and food. Sample the fare, dance with the dance troupes and tour the church to learn more about the culture and faith of these passionate and friendly people.

“So many of the Greeks came here with nothing,” said Kelly Papagikos wife of Father Alex Papgikos of Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Fayetteville. “They built their lives here and became successful and they want to share their blessings with the people and the town that accepted them and made them feel welcome.”

Likewise, each spring the India Festival entices the community to partake in the culture of the Asian Indian community. Visitors learn about customs, sample the food and enjoy traditional dances and customs. The festival organizers then donate the money raised from the event to different charities in the community as a way to give back to their friends and neighbors. In the past six years the festival has donated more than $85,000 to local organizations including Wounded Warriors, YMCA, Falcon Children’s Home and the Center for Economic Empowerment & Development. 01-04-12-city-embraces-2.jpg

Reinforcing cultural diversity, Friends of African & African-American Art brought WE ARE THE SHIP: The Story of Negro League Baseball to Fayetteville in 2011. The exhibit is described as “The story of gifted athletes and determined owners, racial discrimination and international sportsmanship, fortunes won and lost, and triumphs and defeats on and off the field. It is a perfect mirror for the social and political history of black America in the first half of the 20th century.”

These are just a few of the many events put on by different groups in the community. These efforts share with friends and neighbors, build bridges and grow relationships. Events like these are just one of the many factors that contribute to Fayetteville’s prize-winning, multicultural atmosphere.

“For a city this size, we are blessed to have such diversity,” said Papagikos. “As a pastor’s wife, having lived in more than one place, I can tell you that the warmth we have felt here is like none other we have felt before. The people here are diverse and beautiful and amazing. I’ve never lived anywhere like this before and I cherish it.”

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