A rally designed to show support for Laura Hildreth — fired July 22 as the Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department’s community centers director — drew a sparse audience Tuesday night at St. James United Methodist Church Tuesday.
The event was called by community activist Barbara Blunt Muhammad. Initially, only nine people — including a Commercial photographer and reporter — were in attendance. Two others showed up later, lifting the total to 11.
Jerricka Kelly, who worked with Hildreth at the Chester Hynes Community Center, said she was speaking on behalf of her former boss. Kelly said Hildreth believes she was a victim of injustice with her termination, but had decided that she is “not fighting to get her job back.”
“Laura is comfortable with where she stands,” Kelly said. “We’re moving ahead. We’re proactive.”
Kelly said Hildreth’s supporters “need to be still and let her heal.”
“The City of Pine Bluff can’t stop her passion or mission,” said Kelly, who pointed a finger of blame in Hildreth’s firing to “the negative media.” Kelly said the “real” Hildreth hasn’t been portrayed in local media coverage.
Hildreth was fired by the parks and recreation commission for what was termed “ineffective management.” A specific complaint was that she had been unable to locate some theater costumes stored at Hynes. The pieces were valued at $700 by their owner, Brandon Smith.
The commission suspended and then fired both Hildreth and Parks and Recreation Department Director Angela Parker late last year in the wake of a department shortfall of more than $100,000. In January, commissioners decided to reinstate the pair while placing them on probation.
Kelly said Tuesday night that she has invited Hildreth to join her Caleb Initiative non-profit educational program. “We’re setting up a non-profit for her,” Kelly said. “She’s got a strong team working on her behalf.”
Kelly praised Hildreth for her innovation in working with youth and said Hildreth had broken racial barriers in her work here, including introducing black youngsters to soccer.
“She has been a mentor to me,” Kelly said. “She’s not from here. I am, and I knew that things are done in a certain way here.”
Muhammad said Alderman George Stepps telephoned her recently and read to her “the report they’ve got” on Hildreth. “It is very damaging,” said Muhammad, who believes authorities had been searching for “reasons” to fire Hildreth.