They came for the bubbles, the magicians, the music and face painting. But for many the Palo Alto Kids' Carnival offered a chance to come together with people of different races and dissolve social barriers.
Hundreds of people turned out for Saturday's carnival, which was held at Cubberley Community Center and featured a magician, a juggler, a balloon artist, a live band, inflatable slides and a bounce house and games ranging from sack races to dance lessons and a Frisbee distance-toss.
The carnival, which was co-sponsored by the City of Palo Alto, is the latest event spearheaded by Palo Alto's University AME Zion Church to help build racial and ethnic understanding and a stronger sense of interracial community in response to the June 17 massacre of black church members in Charleston, South Carolina. Since then, the church has sponsored community discussions around race and a screening of the film "White Like Me: Race, Racism and White Privilege in America."
Rev. Kaloma Smith is leading the local movement, which other faiths and members of the community are joining.
Rabbi Chaim Koritzinsky of Congregation Etz Chayim, said the carnival is "a great first step" in reconciling differences and building community.
"Getting to know one another is a first step, and then finding out what interests we have in common and what are the issues, and how we can come together and address the dreams and fears," he said.
Denise Patrick, who attended the event with her husband, Rossi, and children Sydni, 7, and Roman, 2, agreed, saying, "I think it is awesome for all of the churches to come together and to mix together."
"We have to start with our kids," she added. "I'm just enjoying the interaction."
Rossi Patrick said children rarely notice color and just want to play.
"We've traveled a lot -- to Sweden and Iceland and all over the place. Kids are great icebreakers," he said."I've watched them play together. Sometimes they speak a different language and it doesn't matter."
The carnival was especially meaningful to the Patricks because they recently moved to Palo Alto from Houston, Texas. Palo Alto has seemed much more segregated than Houston, where diversity is the norm at many events, Denise Patrick said.
"We have East Palo Alto and central Palo Alto, and it seems like all of the various races are separated. Here it is like everyone sticks to their own pocket. But at the end of the day, all of us have that same beating heart," she said.
Councilman Marc Berman said he first met AME Zion Pastor Smith at a community event on race, and was "impressed by how deeply folks cared about this, and clearly, there is a pent-up demand for folks to have these events together," he said.
"We all get so involved in our own communities and groups," Berman added. "Hopefully, this is the beginning of an annual thing. ... We got folks from all different walks of life. Hopefully, it spawns a broader relationship in our entire community."
Smith looked around at the gathering of young and old; at the children chasing bubbles and teenagers and adults dancing. Pennants waved in the breeze and the crowd cheered as a young juggler took to the stage.
He pointed to two men, one black and the other Jewish, involved in deep conversation. Heartened, Smith said he wants to have a similar event again.
"It's an amazing community gathering where people got to become closer neighbors and friends, and with the City of Palo Alto, it was a real community effort," he said.
"There is no pretension; we're just here to be together."