In a new year still troubled by divisive issues and politics of the past, the organizers of the Coast’s largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration have an uplifting message.
It’s a messaged inspired by one of King’s quotes: “Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Anyone can “be the difference,” which is the theme for the 2019 Coastwide MLK Celebration..
“Sometimes making that difference just requires a little more grace and mercy for our neighbor,” said event committee chairperson Allystra Perryman.
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“We want everyone to serve their community just so that we can all live in a more peaceful place and not be so divisive when it comes to people who may be different then we are — to truly believe in equality for everyone, which is Dr. King’s message.”
The highlight of this year’s event will be the presence and words of an icon in Mississippi history and the civil rights movement: James Meredith.
He stood up against white supremacy and a rioting campus by becoming the first black student at Ole Miss in 1962. A few years later, he set out to prove a black man could walk through the state without fear, and set off on a solitary march from Memphis to Jackson. When he was shot by a sniper, King and hundreds of others finished the march for him.
“He is one of our living civil rights icons, he’s 85 years old, and he is a wealth of knowledge,” said Perryman. “We really look forward to having him.”
He will speak at a Sunday afternoon service, as well as after the parade Monday, before the Battle of the Bands, which has a new $5 admission charge.
Perryman said the weather forecast of freezing temperatures overnight Sunday has caused some bands to back out of the parade. But she said Alcorn State University’s marching band and several others from Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana are still planning to march. There are also 80 or so other units in the parade, which she said is about average for the popular event.
Another challenge this year is the many roads under construction on the usual parade route. There is construction at the usual starting point of Howard Avenue and MLK Boulevard, so it’s been moved to Esters Boulevard and Main Street.
One of the city leaders Perryman said has been a “passionate fighter” to get the roads improved will be the parade’s grand marshal: Biloxi Councilman Felix Gines.
As a native of East Biloxi, Perryman said she remembers as a child when Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a holiday. Her positive experiences are why she volunteers each year to organize the event.
“I’m trying to make sure that children have the same experience I had growing up, celebrating Dr. King, understanding his message, and moving forward with some of his teachings,” she said.
And hopefully, the positivity will spread.
“We want to pour some love into the community and hope that they pour love out of themselves to their neighbors as well.”
Here are all of the MLK events on the Coast this weekend:
- MLK Gospel Concert: Aretha Franklin Gospel Tribute at Greater Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, 1028 Denny Ave., Pascagoula. Free and open to the public. 7 p.m. Friday
- MLK Fundraiser Old School Party: Climb CDC, 1316 30th Ave., Gulfport. Admission: $20. 8 p.m. Friday
- The Village Social Justice Symposium: Features When Woman Talk, Youth Summit and Man 2 Man Summit. University of South Mississippi Gulf Park Campus, Fleming Education Center, 730 East Beach Blvd., Long Beach. Free, registration required. 10 a.m. Saturday
- Sunday Inspirational with James Meredith: Presented by Biloxi Councilman Felix Gines. Biloxi Civic Center, 578 Howard Ave., Biloxi. Free and open to the public. 4 p.m. Sunday
- MLK Parade: Downtown Biloxi. 10 a.m. Monday
- MLK Battle of the Bands: MGM Park, 105 Caillavet St., Biloxi. Admission is $5. Monday
- Prayer Breakfast: First Missionary Baptist Church, 256 Sycamore Street, Bay St. Louis, under the direction of the Rev. Al Jenkins. 7 a.m. Friday
- MLK Celebration Banquet: Keynote address by state Rep. Jeramey Anderson, District 110, will deliver the keynote address at historic 100 Men Hall in Bay St. Louis. 7 p.m. Saturday
- Children’s Program: St. Rose de Lima Catholic Church. 4 p.m. Sunday
- Fireworks Show: Sponsored by Powerhouse of Deliverance Church, the fireworks will take place at MLK Park in Bay St. Louis. 6:30 p.m. Sunday
- Celebratory March: Begins at MLK Park and will progress down Washington Street to Powerhouse of Deliverance Church, where a program under the direction of Bishop Jeffrey Reed, will be held commemorating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The program will begin at 11 a.m., followed by a reception. 9:30 a.m. Monday
- MLK Celebration Service: Rev. Hosea J. Hines, Pastor, Christ Tabernacle Church in Jackson will speak at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church at 1700 Rev. Dr. Jesse L. Trotter St., Ocean Springs. 6:30 p.m. Sunday
- Wild Game Fest: MLK Park, Ocean Springs. 11 a.m. Monday