Eastside residents gathered for the third All-American Burger Festival, a free, all-day public block party hosted by Mark’s Outing. The festival featured a scholarship giveaway to two Communities in Schools students, outdoor music, dance performances, a burger eating contest, and a celebrity cook-off between San Antonio Police Chief William McManus and San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood.

The 1600 block of East Commerce Street was filled with food vendors and a stage where bands Dev Soul and Ascension played and the Unique Dance Team, a troupe of Eastside children sponsored by Live Your Dream, performed.

The heat drove many attendees from vendors’ tents to the small areas of shade near Mark’s Outing or inside the restaurant, but sweat didn’t dampen the festival goers’ spirits. Families and couples strolled around the block or sat in the shade and shared lively conversation while children ran around laughing.

Eastside residents enjoy the third All-American Burger Festival.
Eastside residents enjoy the third All-American Burger Festival. Credit: Tom Bugg / San Antonio Report

A portion of the festival’s proceeds went to Communities in Schools of San Antonio, a nonprofit that supports underprivileged and at-risk students academically and non-academically through engagement with in-school coordinators. By creating a stable, personal connection with students, the organization aims to reduce the dropout rate and increase students’ likelihood of success in life.

The two students chosen as scholarship recipients, Kethan and Kevan Jones, are Eastside natives who graduated from Sam Houston High School and plan to attend St. Phillips College. Onstage, the they were presented with checks alongside their site-coordinator, Destiny Wills. Kethan said Wills had helped him since he was 15, and had been instrumental in getting him an important internship. Kevan said that she had pushed him to go further than he had ever thought possible. Both boys expressed their gratitude to Communities in Schools and their excitement for their futures at St. Phillips.

“I hope that this event will encourage people to invest in their community and just give back, through mentoring, through whatever means they have,” said Communities in Schools SA Executive Vice President Melissa Kazen. “Our community needs more caring adults to serve as role models, particularly for young men of color since there’s a gap there. They lag behind in graduation rates. So, that one caring adult in their life could give them the extra push that could make all the difference in their future success.”

(from left) Kevan Jones, Eddie Chatman, Melissa Kazen, Destiny Wills, Kethan Jones, and Mark Outing present scholarships onstage at the third All-American Burger Festival.
(from left) Kevan Jones, Eddie Chatman, Melissa Kazen, Destiny Wills, Kethan Jones, and Mark Outing present scholarships onstage at the third All-American Burger Festival. Credit: Tom Bugg / San Antonio Report

Communities in Schools has been in San Antonio for more than 30 years, and the organization currently serves 99 schools with the support of 95 business and community partners. In the 2015-16 school year, it served 48,341 students through its programs and provided comprehensive stay-in-school services to 8,068 students, with 93% of case managed students improving in academics, behavior, and attendance, and 99% staying in school.

“We always try to give to those that are really striving,” said Mark Outing, owner of the business that bears his name. “There are high school students out there that are really trying to get their education, and sometimes they fall short for whatever reason it might be. What we want to do with the All-American Burger Festival is to become a vehicle to help them strive to get their education … It’s a vehicle to spread love to the community.”

The festival continued with a burger cook-off between Police Chief McManus and Fire Chief Hood. Competition was fierce as both ch(i)efs were cheered on by their respective departments. The burgers were judged by a panel of four, led by local radio personality Sonny Melendrez and District 2 Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw.

Hood took first place, but both chiefs received $500 donations to go to the charity of their choosing. Chief McManus chose the Battered Women’s and Children’s Shelter, and Chief Hood, who wore a SAFDEEM shirt to commemorate fallen firefighter Scott Deem, chose the 100 Club. Hood cited the past few years’ tragic toll on the families of policemen and firemen in the city as the reason behind his choice. Both men received resounding applause from the crowd.

“It’s about bringing folks together on a positive note,” Shaw said. “We always hear about the negativity going on in the city, but here we’re bringing out some positivity, bringing out small businesses, just bringing folks together to have a good time.”

Tom Bugg is a San Antonio native and student of English at Colorado College.