Sowing seeds of homecoming

Last Saturday evening, something happened in downtown Pine Bluff that should serve as the seeds for all future UAPB post-homecoming game celebrations. An extension of the popular summer Music on Main festivals was staged to accommodate the alumni and other celebrants — technically the game didn’t leave much about which to celebrate, but that’s really beside the point.

By conservative estimates, nearly 2,000 people filtered through the downtown event. The Pine Bluff Police Department blocked off several blocks and were present in reassuring numbers. There were several bands and a few food vendors. The crowd was at times lively, but without becoming mired in the club-centered nonsense that has plagued some outdoor gatherings.

We believe this small start should serve as the model for future homecoming weekends. Imagine not two city blocks, but six. Imagine festivities that run both Friday and Saturday nights. Imagine stages at both ends of the festival … 30 vendors … and 10,000 attendees.

This kind of event is not some Pollyanna fantasy. It is within our grasp. Just as the folks in New Orleans start planning for next year’s Mardi Gras the day after this year’s is over, we should start work now on next year’s homecoming festival. We need to organize, publicize, promote and prepare. If we’re going to go to the trouble to have a parade and a big game, then we owe to our guests and ourselves to take this thing to the next level.

Beyond the two-day festival, such an event could also serve as a further catalyst for the reinvention of downtown that so many of us eagerly await. When visitors see that the dusty and largely disused downtown is again up and breathing, coming back to old PB might not seem quite so preposterous.

There’s an old saying in sports: When you get to the end zone, act like you’ve been there before. This past weekend, we slid our hand across the goal line (at least on Main Street). As such, we need to act like the winners we know we can be. We should not be content to have staged a well-received, but small downtown party.

If we plan and promote a bigger, more concentrated event, we alleviate many of the problems that have persisted over the years. We also have an opportunity to spread the wealth while showcasing our revitalized community. Such a festival would also serve to draw university alumni who may have stopped coming due to the paucity of offerings in Pine Bluff.

In recent days, the administration of UAPB has announced its desire to rechristen the university as a more inclusive and higher quality institution. We support that mission. If the university is to survive, it can’t be what it has been. Economics just won’t allow it; nor will economics allow the rest of the community to be what it once was. We have to adapt. We have to be better. We have to give people a reason to come home — and to stay.