STOCKTON — Mae Moppins was already in her 40s when Charles Perry brought a team up from Los Angeles to play a friendly Labor Day game of softball against a team of Stocktonians at McKinley Park.
That was 50 years ago. The game — and the event it spawned, now known as Black Family Day — became an annual affair and quickly outgrew the south Stockton park, moving to downtown’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza and eventually to Weber Point.
Moppins, who claims to have never missed a Black Family Day celebration in those 50 years, was hard-pressed to identify the best year Monday afternoon as she sat under the shade of a tent listening to live gospel music from the Weber Point stage.
“They are all good to me,” said Moppins, 92, mother to 12 children and 106 grandchildren — many of whom were scattered around the festival Monday.
“I like the atmosphere, I like the people. I enjoy myself. Everybody’s nice to me and I try to be nice to them,” said Moppins, who moved to Stockton in 1955.
This year, in honor of Black Family Day reaching the half-century milestone, the organizers expanded the event to the entire three-day holiday weekend.
On Saturday, they reintroduced the McKinley Park softball tournament for the first time in years. On Sunday afternoon, several dozen people gathered at the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium for a new, open event dubbed the “Family Forum & Discussion” to talk about issues affecting the Stockton community.
But Monday’s traditional event, this year adopting the theme “Homecoming,” still drew the largest crowds for the culture festival celebrating African-American history and arts.
The day included a peach cobbler and amateur barbecue cook-off, a health expo, children’s pavilion with games and activities, photo booth, food and merchant vendors. The sail-covered stage on the waterfront served as the central point for many of the activities, including live music, a youth talent show, spoken word, a drum tribute, “DJ Battle,” and Black Stockton Honors that recognized dozens of community leaders, activists and organizations for their contributions.
Among those honored for Outstanding Nonprofit Community Service:
• Willisha Cherry with Fruitful Cherry.
• Jefferson Stricklen with Lions & Queens.
• Shonna McDaniels with Sojourner Truth African Heritage Museum.
• DeMar Johnson with Balloons Over Bullets.
• Terrence Piper and Schucka Piper with Peaceful Warriors.
• Nicole Tobia-Cooks with The Voice of Stockton KXVS Radio.
Coleen Sykes Rays with Bags of Hope was named the winner of the Willie Douglas Community Service Award for 2018.
Messages addressed to Stockton’s youth were plentiful during the day. During the gospel portion of the live music, solo singer Ljanee’ of Stockton hoped “to motivate young people to stay in school and get their education.”
Redemption The Band had audience members up on their feet several times with messages such as “young men may be male by birth, but you’re a man by choice” and the raucous song “Gonna Be Alright.”
Volunteer Harold Ross, 68, who’s attended most Black Family Days since moving to Stockton in 1984, believes the festival is getting better year after year, just as Stockton is working to improve itself.
“There are no problems out here. We just come out and enjoy ourselves.”
Ross had one complaint, though. “The food is good, but you have to wait too long for it.”
Contact reporter Joe Goldeen at (209) 546-8278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at recordnet.com/goldeenblog and on Twitter @JoeGoldeen.