CrabFest organizer holds small protest after event canceled

Downtown Williston
Downtown Williston
Noah Densmore via Shutterstock

About 50 people gathered for a protest in Williston on Saturday after back-and-forth between the CrabFest organizer and local authorities. 

“I am protesting in the City of Williston, I am protesting the fact that our local government, city and county, are both bringing division in our black community,” CrabFest organizer Keniuel Gates wrote on Facebook.

Gates, the head of the non-profit Next Generation Williston, organized the event for the same day the canceled CrabFest would have taken place. 

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Last week a state appeals court granted Levy County an injunction against Gates to prevent the two-day event from happening on the grounds that safety risks and expenses for the community were high. In the past the event has drawn thousands from outside the area. 

Prior to the injunction, Gates removed all music performances tied to the CrabFest 2021 event to avoid obtaining a special events permit from the Levy County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). At the board’s meeting the next day, officials and residents spoke against having the event. They called called for peace in Williston after several shootings happened in the last year, including at a protest Gates organized last September.

Gates and activist Chanae Jackson of Gainesville led the protest on Saturday with speeches to the attendees. Jackson spoke about an acronym WAR.

Wisdom is learning about what is going on around you and what you can do about it, she said.

Architecture is more than buildings, Jackson said. “It’s about rebuilding communities and our people,” she said, calling on people to build each other up and “stop tearing each other down.” 

Revolution was the last part of the acronym. Jackson said the community needs to develop the plans for what they think should be done in East Williston, then join forces to get that done.

Jackson encouraged people to attend city and school board meetings and learn about what is happening around them and to hold officials accountable for their decisions.

“The street of Williston should have been packed out right now the same way that Williston would have been for the CrabFest,” Jackson said of the small turnout. “People are not going to handle your business if you’re not going to handle your business.”

When Gates took the stage, he also addressed the small turnout and alleged that city officials acted subversively to block CrabFest.

“They infiltrated our people with our people,” he said. “There’s some people who should have been up here that could back me that aren’t here.”

Gates read a speech titled, “Is This The Peace?” which highlighted events he felt were unjust to black citizens of Williston.

“Is the peace?” Gates asked. “You are looking for when our black and brown kids run up and down the football field and the basketball court for a school system but the East Williston community lacks the resources for them to have success in their lives?”

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