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Bradenton – Jack Newton looked around Bradenton Riverwalk March 22 and was amazed. Not only by the size of the inaugural Manatee Pride, but the age range of those attending.

“I never knew there was such a community here,” Newton said as he browsed vendor booths. “I’m stunned, really. I would have never imagined all of this could happen here.”

But it did, and an estimated 1,500 people made their way through the 50-plus vendors, collecting giveaways and learning about organizations and groups.

Many, like Newton, were surprised at the impressive turnout, even Manatee Pride president Shannon Summers, who also operates Prism Youth, the beneficiary of the event.

“We exceeded expectations on attendance,” she said. “There was a smile on everybody’s face. Sponsors and vendors did very well and were happy with their placement and the turnout. It was almost perfect.”

The weather cooperated, providing temperatures in the low 80s and clear skies throughout the four-hour event, which closed down at 4 p.m. Crowds stayed up until the very last song was played from the stage.

“I think the community will be more galvanized here now,” Summers said. “Everyone had a good time. They weren’t harassed by anyone and enjoyed what it was like to actually have a community in Bradenton.”

Throngs of festival attendees danced to the music and Summers believe they will want more of that at next year’s Manatee Pride festival, which is tentatively slated for March 21, 2015.

“We still have to get approval, but I think it will be easier for year two,” Summers said. “There were no incidents reported, no protests and no one imbibed too much. It was a fantastic day.”

Turnout was so strong that food trucks ran low on provisions and many vendors handed out everything they brought. One attendee, Jessica Crawley of Bradenton, had two bags of swag she collected throughout the afternoon.

“I had no idea there were so many queer-inclusive groups out there,” the 24-year-old said. “Manatee County has this reputation of being a wasteland between Sarasota and Tampa Bay. But that’s obviously not the case. There is a lot happening here and a lot more that will happen now.”

Summers had the opportunity to speak with several groups of youths, which were prevalent throughout the day. Those groups, she said, expressed interest in participating in PrismYouth and she expects to see many fresh faces at the organization in the very near future.

“We did quite well in fundraising,” Summers said. “Now that we have some money, we can do more than just be open on Saturdays. We can do outings and make it more inviting for these kids. We’re no longer just a respite for a few hours where they can hang out with their friends. We are up for a really exciting future.”

Of course, the money raised from Manatee Pride is not endless, and anyone interested in supporting the initiative can do so through Summers said she is also looking for more board members.

“We need new blood and new talents on our board,” she said. “We need that to take the organization to the next level. It’s time for that.”

Summers admitted that she smiled throughout the festival. A sense of pride in what she helped cultivate as well as looking at so many happy people made every struggle presenting the festival worth it, she said.

“We had an impromptu celebration dinner after we broke down the event,” Summers said, referring to the Manatee Pride Board and volunteers. “We decided that we were awesome and we could only make this event awesomer.”

In 2015, expect more entertainment and a six-hour festival. Summers also hopes to extend the festival area toward the river to accommodate even more vendors.

“We identified some of the larger sponsors and vendors we want to have next year that we didn’t get this year,” Summers said. “People didn’t know what to expect and we couldn’t give them an exact number to expect in regards to turnout. We have that now. I don’t think we’re going to have an issue attracting sponsors for the second celebration.”

From our media partner Watermark