He called it a “red-zone area” that, when it gets any attention at all, is known for drug dealing and drive-by shootings, said Mr. Johnson, who now lives in the downtown area on Michigan Street.
But that makes it all the more important to have events like the Smith Park Festival, he said while working as a ride attendant for Brown Amusements.
The festival provides “something to keep your kids out of trouble,” and helps residents reclaim a public space from the community's darker element.
“This is great. No beer tent, none of that stuff. Just clean fun,” Mr. Johnson said.
Charles Smith, who grew up on Norwood Avenue and was a security guard at the festival, heartily agreed.
“This helps keep the bonds in this neighborhood strong,” he said.
Carole-Jean Brazzel, the founder, treasurer, and event coordinator for the People's Tribunal, Inc., said bringing “wholesome and family entertainment” back to the central city - the park is at Dorr Street and Lawrence Avenue - is what the event is all about.
People's Tribunal, which has sponsored the four-day festival for 19 years and its affiliated Recognition Award Day Parade for 25 years, organized during the mid-1970s to provide the urban poor with legal aid, employment discrimination support, and other community services.
The organization added carnival rides two years ago, Ms. Brazzel said, to diversify an event that previously featured only food vendors and a community flea market.
Ms. Brazzel said People's Tribunal views the festival primarily as a community service, not a fund-raiser, since its income varies from year to year depending on turnout.
This year could end up a fairly lean one, with rainy conditions having plagued the festival for the first three days.
“This hasn't helped anything but the color of the grass,” agreed Mark Brown, the concessions manager for Brown Amusements of Cortland, Ohio.
But any proceeds from the Smith Park Festival will be used, Ms. Brazzel said, to sponsor trips to Washington for teenagers and senior citizens each January to attend educational and cultural events held there in conjunction with Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.