East St. Louis celebrated its first ever Christmas tree lighting with a ceremony on East Broadway Avenue on Friday evening. The event featured raffles, vendors and a performance from East St. Louis Senior High School Choir.
About 50 people gathered for the historic event. Delores King-Blackmon was one of them. King-Blackmon is a member of the Emma L. Wilson King Foundation, an East St. Louis-based nonprofit that aims to encourage more economic development in the city. She said the city having an inaugural tree lighting is a step in the right direction.
“I love the city of East St. Louis,” King-Blackmon, of Edwardsville, said before Friday’s event started. “I’m for the city of East St. Louis. I see so much going on that’s improving the city, just driving through. The thing now is that we have all of these vacant lots, which I’m happy that they’re clean. Now, we need to put homes on these properties so we can get the kids to come back to help with the enrollment in our city.”
East St. Louis has a population of 18,469, according to 2020 Census results. It’s a drastic decline from from 27,006 that was reported in 2010. King-Blackmon said she hopes events like Friday’s encourage more people to return to the city.
“This is just an extension of supporting the city — our foundation, in coming out here and one hand washing the other, just joining hands in a circle of love for our city,” King-Blackmon said.
Irma Golliday, director of the East St. Louis Park District, brought her great nephew to the ceremony.
“I wanted to bring him here so he could get a chance to see it and to enjoy the festivities,” Golliday, 70, said. “In additon to that, it’s a beautiful day, and the park district and the city supports each other, so I definitely wanted to come out and support. We want to see East St. Louis progress and keep moving forward and moving up.”
East St. Louis Senior High School Choir started the event with various musical selections, which included a performance of the Christmas classic “Silent Night”. Several city leaders also spoke during the event, emphasizing what the inaugural tree lighting meant to the city. Those leaders included: East St. Louis City Manager Carlos Mayfield, council member Jo Anne Parks, clerk Debra Hamilton-Tidwell and Mayor Robert Eastern III.
“This is a new rebirth in the city of East St. Louis,” Mayor Eastern III said before making a countdown to light the tree. “This tree lighting ceremony is right in the footprint of our city. This is going to be a light, like a lantern, a lighthouse that’s getting ready to be displayed right here, of the newness, in East St. Louis.”
Teresa Fuller also attended Friday’s ceremony. She’s the public relations specialist for the R.I.T.E. Plan Initiative, an East St. Louis organization that’s focused on rebuilding the city’s infrastructure. The organization helped supply the lights for the Christmas tree. The R.I.T.E. Plan Initiative, along with Howard Hughes Consulting, Clayco, Ameren Illinois and Harambee International, sponsored the event.
“This is something that is very dear to us because our founder is from East St. Louis, and he wanted to find a way to give back to the community as well as rebuild it in that fashion,” Fuller said. “Our first project is the waste energy facility, which will be cleaning the area and revitalizing it.”
Friday’s event ended with a final selection from the East St. Louis Senior High School Choir and a presentation of raffle winners.
Eastern III said he’s excited about the new developments that’ll take place next year. Although he didn’t specify what those plans are, he said more details will start to unfold soon.
“We’re excited about this,” Eastern III said after the event. “Any time we can get the community out here and have some positive light on our city is good. “What we’re more excited about is the people who sponsored this event, which is Clayco, Howard Hughes and the R.I.T.E. Plan. These are developers that are going to be coming into our city, and there’s going to be big things to look forward to in 2022.”
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