Kingfest, the annual weeklong slate of activities leading up to the Jan. 21 Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, begins Tuesday with a kickoff event at the Pine Bluff Country Club and culminates next Monday with a Main Street parade.
Rev. Jesse Turner, the event organizer, said the week’s primary purpose is to inspire people to become mentors to area youth in the spirit of the teachings of MLK.
“Everything focuses on mentoring and interracial cooperation and community service,” Turner said of the week’s events. “The theme this year is Mentor a Child; Save a Life. We are highlighting the Pen or Pencil program and the work it does to help kids make the right decisions in their life. January is national mentoring month and we are using that to encourage members of the community to step up and be a part of mentoring.”
Turner said the Pen or Pencil program is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and incorporates mentoring with positive youth development and is focused on youth who are neglected, delinquent and at-risk.
“Pen stands for penitentiary and pencil stands for education, the two rival choices for many Arkansas students as well as students across the country,” Turner said.
Turner said kids who are mentored are much more likely to stay in school and less likely to become teen parents or become involved with a gang.
“Right now it is time for Pine Bluff to pay close attention to the teachings of Martin Luther King and how he promoted interracial cooperation,” Turner said. “We definitely need to talk about this now and I think the timing is right. We will see how the community responds to the teachings of Dr. King.”
Kingfest will officially begin Tuesday at a joint meeting of the Pine Bluff and West Pine Bluff Rotary Clubs at the PBCC.
Turner said students in the Pine Bluff and Watson Chapel school districts will be encouraged Wednesday to sign a document that pledges them to good behavior.
“We will ask them to sign the Freedom of Choice Agreement, which means that they are promising that they will stay in school until they graduate and they won’t get involved in gangs or any other behaviors that will get them suspended,” Turner said. “We will also seek parental permission to allow them into the Pen or Pencil initiative.”
Turner said a planned showing of a video called The Children’s March that chronicles the participation of young people in the civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala. in the 1960s is being moved to Jan. 23.
“It will be in the JROTC building at Watson Chapel High School and after the viewing students will be able to discuss the film and what they can do in their own lives to work for social justice,” Turner said.
An MLK Birthday Bash will be held at Robert F. Morehead Middle School in the Dollarway School District Thursday, Turner said.
“We will be talking about the Pen or Pencil imitative,” Turner said.
Friday evening at 7 p.m. a Gospel Extravaganza will be held at St. Hurricane Baptist Church.
“We had between 300 and 400 people take part last year and it is geared towards the youth,” Turner said.
A free health fair will be held Saturday at the Donald W. Reynolds Center from 9 a.m. until noon.
“The Alpha Fraternity will be helping local doctors conduct blood checks and diabetes tests as part of the community service component of Kingfest,” Turner said.
The eighth annual Justice Sunday Breakfast will be held at First United Methodist Church from 7 a.m. until 8:15 a.m. with Steven King, pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Pine Bluff the guest speaker.
“He will talk about Dr. King as a clergyman,” Turner said. “He will talk about how faith communities became involved with the civil rights movement.”
The 29th annual commemorative program will be held Sunday at First United Methodist at 7 p.m.
“Mayor Debe Hollingsworth will be the speaker,” Turner said.
Kingfest will have its grand finale with the MLK Parade down Main Street from the Jefferson County Courthouse to City Hall on Monday.
“We are moving the start of the parade from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. to avoid a conflict with the inauguration of President Obama,” Turner said. “We are encouraging ministers to include their church vans in the parade. We also have marching units. Pine Bluff High School will be there.”
Turner said a program will be held on the east steps of City Hall at the conclusion of the parade to honor King and his legacy.