A Pine Bluff pastor asked Pine Bluff School District leaders Tuesday to encourage their students to take part in the KingFest Celebration, including a march to celebrate the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.


The KingFest celebration commemorates the peaceful demonstrations embodied by the slain civil rights leader. Sponsored by the Interested Citizens for Voter Registration, it honors King through community service projects and interracial cooperation. Former professional baseball player and Pine Bluff native Torii Hunter will speak Sunday at 6 p.m. at First Assembly of God Church and lead the KingFest Marade/Parade Monday at 2 p.m. from the Jefferson County Courthouse as part of the celebration.


The Rev. Jesse Turner, pastor of Elm Grove Baptist Church and executive director of the Interested Citizens for Voter Registration, addressed Superintendent Michael Robinson and board members Tuesday at their work session at Belair Middle School. Turner said he hopes at least 1,000 Pine Bluff students take part in the parade to honor the legacy of King and to welcome Hunter to his hometown.


“We want to encourage our board to encourage our principals and the students in Pine Bluff to attend the parade,” Turner said. “We want students to be Pine Bluff first and not to migrate to another parade. Mr. Torii Hunter has invested a lot in Pine Bluff at the football field and at the [University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.]


“It is extremely important that Mr. Hunter does not come here and find that someone has pulled all of our kids to Little Rock for another event after he has done so much.”


Turner also requested board members contact mentors and ask they give one hour of mentoring.


Board member Phyllis Wilkins thanked Turner for his work in hosting the KingFest events and other civic projects in Pine Bluff and elsewhere in Arkansas.


“We will definitely encourage not only our students but our churches also,” Wilkins said.


Robinson touted the mentoring program, noting students from Jack Robey Junior High School and Pine Bluff High School discussed their experiences at a Rotary Club meeting earlier on Tuesday.


“We should feel very proud of our scholars for having done a phenomenal job,” Robinson, who has a doctorate in educational leadership, said. “I am going to continue to encourage the mentoring program in our district because it is certainly something that we need and it is going to be most beneficial to all of our scholars in their participation.”