In recent weeks, a small group of local residents has been filming videos of themselves on Facebook Live walking around Pine Bluff to disprove negative stereotypes of the city as a dangerous place to live. Marina Ross, a local videographer who is making a documentary about the town's history, said she was inspired to make the videos after working on the campaign to pass the Go Forward Pine Bluff sales tax.
“Every Thursday night, we go around downtown and we talk positive stuff,” Ross said.
Ross hosted the first Facebook Live walk four weeks ago, and has continued the practice each week since. Ross posts announcements about the walks on the Facebook page for her documentary, “Pine Bluff: Then and Now.” They are usually scheduled in the evening, a time that, given Pine Bluff's reputation for crime, many people might consider dangerous. But it's that reputation Ross hopes to dispel. In addition, the tours serve as walking promotions for the many local small businesses that people outside the city may not be aware of.
Shortly before 8 p.m. on a recent Thursday, a black sedan zoomed down Main Street and parked abruptly. Ross popped out, hurried across the street to a pair of onlookers and breathlessly showed off her new selfie stick. One was Wil Jenkins, a downtown property owner and member of the city's Civic and Auditorium Complex Commission, and the other was Susie Reeves Cowan. Cowan, a Pine Bluff native, is the executive director of Local First Arkansas, a North Little Rock nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering independent, locally owned small businesses.
Ross, Jenkins and Cowan took turns making introductory videos about why Pine Bluff was a safe place to live and a good place to do business. Then they were off, giving viewers on Facebook Live a real-time tour of downtown Pine Bluff as the sun set. Before long, the crew attracted more people. Two young women, Kristen Cole and Eboni Edwards, Pine Bluff natives, wandered over from a run they were taking to see what was going on.
Ross quickly made them introduce themselves to the camera. The crew walked down Main Street, stopped near the railroad tracks, then turned west on Third Avenue. Ross pointed out murals painted on the side of the former Doc's Pawn Shop and, across the street, the former site of the Looking Good clothing store.
Cowan spoke about working with local business owners Tommy Palmer of Stereo Junction, Deja Vu Upscale Consignment owner Trisha Shank and Pine Bluff Alderman Bill Brumett of the Brumett Agency on a new initiative called Delta Spark. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, Delta Spark teaches digital marketing strategies to small business owners.
“These business owners are strong, resilient and hungry to succeed,” Cowan said.
The group crossed Walnut Street and wandered over to the Margland Bed and Breakfast on Second Avenue, owned by longtime Pine Bluff resident Wanda Bateman. Ross, a native of Ukraine, leaned toward the camera and sounded out the name of a commenter named Deana Bateman, who had typed, “That's my mom's place!”
“Wanda Bateman's daughter is in the house!” Ross exclaimed. “Shout out to your mom and to you. Thank you so much for listening to us. Yes, you have an amazing mama.”
The group turned back east, stopping by the Tackle Box Bait Shop at 601 Barraque Street for another of Ross' shout outs.
“That's the new bait shop,” Jenkins said to the camera. “When you go to the bait shop, tell John that Wil sent you.”
They wandered back to Main Street, where Ross pointed out Pop's Barber Shop, before turning back to the camera.
“So it's not that bad, okay?” she said. “If you know very important people, help us get them [here].”
“Bring business back to downtown,” Cowan added.
“That's it, folks,” Jenkins said, clapping his hands. Six days later, the video had amassed 1,319 “views” on Facebook, 32 comments and four shares.
“Be nice, Pine Bluff,” Ross said, signing off. “Be positive. The change begins with you.”