Commentary: Wine, Pride and Summer

By Stacia Erdos Littleton

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Summer is unequivocally my favorite season in the Valley.

Every weekend it seems you have your pick of unique happenings taking place. You can sit on a patio, listen to local musicians at restaurants, breweries and wineries, and chat with the owners who have taken a chance and pursued their dreams by starting their own business right here.

You can celebrate this melting pot of many cultures at Simply Slavic and the Italian Fest. You can check out the Doobie Brothers, or Kool and the Gang at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre or hear your favorite tribute band at River Rock at the Amp in Warren.

You can chill by the water while sipping a flight of wine at the Vineyards at Pine Lake, or watch movies, play bocce, or enjoy an outdoor concert at Firestone Farms.

The arts have also become an integral part of the revitalization of Youngstown and are showcased each summer at the annual Festival of the Arts, as well as the Women’s Art Celebration at the YWCA.

You might also enjoy a walk at Mill Creek Park, go to a fancy party at Riverside Gardens, take a kayak trip with Friends of the Mahoning River, or join 10,000 walkers and runners at the Panerathon for breast cancer awareness.

One event I’m ready to give a second chance this summer is the revamped Youngstown Wine and Jazz Festival. It made for a beautiful night on the lawn last year with friends as I listened to the smooth sounds of my former colleague from WYTV days, Sharon North.

While the jazz was flowing, the wine was not. In fact, there was a lot of conversation among the attendees who were left perplexed. The only wine at the Wine and Jazz Fest was at the concession stand – with only a couple of (not great) choices.

So, if like me, you were one of those left with an unfulfilled palate at last year’s event, I hope you’ll join me in giving the Wine and Jazz fest another try. This year, local wineries will be on tap including D.O.P.E. Cider House and Winery, L’uva Bella, Woodland Cellars, and Mastropietro Winery.

There will also be another bonus for cigar smokers – the Steel City Cigar Lounge will be on hand to add an additional smoky flavor to the night.

Some Thoughts on Pride in the Valley

In June, for the first time, I attended Full Spectrum Pride in the Valley on Courthouse Square in Warren.  I was looking forward to going because I had never been to Pride Fest and I would be staffing the Coleman Health Services table for most of the day. I found it to be a relaxing, family- and pet-friendly event, with thousands taking part.

There were games for the kids, axe throwing for adults and live entertainment. The sense of community and the truly inclusive and supportive environment blew me away.

While there were many health organizations and other vendors there, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many businesses represented. Among them were Macy’s, Meijer, Huntington Bank, 717 Credit Union and others. It was refreshing to see local businesses standing firm after the controversy over Target succumbing to protesters and pulling some of its mass-produced apparel.

That, in turn, had led to amped up criticism that many corporations are merely fair-weather supporters driven by sales and easily pressured to cave to Pride backlash.

And there’s no denying that Pride Fest provided an economic benefit to Warren businesses. The lines for the food trucks were lengthy. At Nova Coffee, where they were selling rainbow doughnuts, the barista said business had been booming all day.

As I walked around the festival, taking everything in, I saw a sign that gave me pause. It said “Free Mom Hugs.” I had heard about this group. And now, despite being surrounded by thousands of people, suddenly I felt intrusive and couldn’t help but feel the emotion as I watched what was happening in front of me.

One of the moms was talking to a young man around 20 years old. I couldn’t hear what she was saying to him but I could tell it was sincere and affirming. She held his face and looked in his eyes as she spoke to him.

Then she embraced him. His back was to me. As he turned his head to set it on her shoulder, I could see he was in tears. In that instance, came clarity.

While I had been feeling so much joy around me, there was also much pain. It also reemphasized the reason it was important for mental health organizations to be there that day – to provide information, resources on suicide prevention,  and perhaps just a friendly face to talk to.

My hope is that as we enjoy summer in the Valley and take in all that our artists, musicians and culture have to offer, we embrace not only what we have in common, but also accept our differences and celebrate all who make the Valley a special place.