When Gwinnett County bicentennial celebration organizers began planning the county’s yearlong birthday party, they knew they needed to tell the story of Gwinnett and how it has transformed over the last two centuries.
“We started last year on Dec. 15 representing Gwinnett as it was 200 years ago,” said Tina Fleming, the county’s director of community services. “We had the Frontier Affair, which was at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse with the historical society and we all dressed in historic (clothing). What we wanted to do (Saturday) is celebrate how vibrant and connected we are with all the diversity in the county.”
That diversity was represented by more than a half-dozen “booths” — or specially-decorated areas of the Hudgens Center for Art and Learning’s hallway that included cultural staples, such as a soccer net to symbolize Brazil’s love of the sport or a roulette wheel representing Las Vegas’ casinos — cultural performances, collaborative art, storytelling, arts-and-crafts and more at Saturday’s Family Cultural Birthday Party, a free event held prior to the evening’s paid birthday celebration dinner.
A family affair, the party emphasized interactive learning and fun, said Sheila Fowler, who also works in Gwinnett’s Department of Community Services.
“When people come in, the children get a passport and they put a thumbprint on where they’re from or where their family is from, all over the globe,” Fowler said. “Back in the Hudgens Art Center, they’ve got arts they’re working on with children to represent the different continents, and they can get their passport stamped. We’ve got ice sculptures outside, we’ve got s’mores outside — it’s a party for everybody.”
Funmie Efeyini and her husband, Mike, who immigrated from Nigeria more than a decade ago, were a part of that “everybody” Saturday afternoon as they took selfies with a man dressed as Button Gwinnett — one of Georgia’s three Declaration of Independence signatories and the man who Gwinnett County was named after.
“We live in Gwinnett and just wanted to learn more about its (history),” Efeyini said. “It’s the best place (to live); I’d only planned to live here for one year (after immigrating) but 12 years later, we’re still here. It’s highly diversified and virtually everything you want or need is in Gwinnett. For us, because we are immigrants, we felt welcome in Gwinnett.”
Efeyini said she and her husband felt especially welcomed at Saturday afternoon’s event, thanks to all the different cultures represented and countries displayed.
“(The celebration) is beautiful,” she said. “It caters to everybody and to all ages; I mean, we were able to find something to do and find our way, even though we are not young. That’s impressive; I’m glad I came.”
Carrie Halron, who first heard about the event because her daughter, Caelyn, is a student at the Drake School of Irish Dance — the dance school was one of seven groups to perform at the party — said she, too, was glad she and her family came.
“The (county) did a really good job,” she said. “There are lot of fun activities for the kids; their mouths are full, so we always like that. All the performances were (great) and it was neat to see all the cultures that make up Gwinnett. We were actually talking about that with our family that was here — it was fun to see the melting pot that Gwinnett is. You don’t see it like that often and it was fun to highlight it.”