Celebrations for civil rights giant Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. happened all over the city during the weekend and through the official federal MLK holiday on Monday.
A Day of Service was held on Saturday throughout Pine Bluff, where volunteers picked up trash and participated in various other tasks in honor of King, and a parade/”marade” was held on Monday.
One of the largest events took place Sunday night when the Pine Bluff Interested Citizens for Voter Registration (PBICVR) hosted the 35th Annual Justice Sunday Program at the Family Church Pine Bluff campus.
Monte Coleman, minister from the First Assembly of God Church, was the master of ceremonies, with First United Methodist Church pastor Mike Morey, Mt. Nebo Baptist Church pastor Larry C. Battles, Family Church Pine Bluff campus pastor Roosevelt Brown, PBICVR board member Irene Holcomb, and Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington each having a few moments to speak.
Music was provided by Women United for Christ Choir, a choir made up of women from multiple religious backgrounds in Pine Bluff.
The featured speaker of the evening was Pine Bluff native and NFL Hall of Fame member Willie Roaf. Roaf played high school football for Pine Bluff before earning a scholarship to Louisiana Tech, where he played from 1989-92. Roaf was a finalist for the Outland Trophy during his senior year and was the eighth overall pick in the 1993 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints.
He played nine seasons for the Saints, where he was named to seven Pro Bowls and earned a spot on both the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team and the 2000s All-Decade Team, making him the most awarded player in Saints history.
In 2001, Roaf suffered a season-ending injury and was ultimately traded to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he played professional football for another four seasons, earning another four trips to the Pro Bowl. He retired from football in 2006, then accepted his first coaching job at Santa Monica College in 2009.
Roaf was elected to the Louisiana Tech Hall of Fame in 2003, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame in 2008, Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2009, the NFL Hall of Fame in 2012, and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014.
Roaf was honored by the Arkansas House of Representatives 92nd General Assembly. State representatives Ken Ferguson and Vivian Flowers presented a plaque to Roaf at Sunday’s event, with Flowers noting that the Roaf family has served in the community, classrooms and in courtrooms while setting examples for others to follow.
In his speech, Roaf noted that generational blessings can help families have success through several generations. He gave credit to his grandfather, Arthur Roaf, who had success in life despite only having a third-grade education.
“My grandfather, Arthur Roaf, was from Pine Bluff, and my grandmother, when she moved to Moscow, from Louisiana,” Roaf said.
“He started working in the third grade plowing cotton. Grandma didn’t get past eighth grade. When I was a child, he was the associate pastor in a church and had nine children. One was my dad, and he had seven older sisters and one older brother who went into the military.
“My dad was the first one to go to college, then my uncle Sterling, who is a doctor here. Then my aunt went to college, and her daughter is now a doctor here at Jefferson Regional Medical Center. One other aunt went back and got her college degree in her 60s. From my grandfather being illiterate to him raising his children, teaching them to read and write, he has had two doctors that came from his bloodline.”
Roaf also noted that generational curses can harm many lives if people aren’t able to break the chains of terrible things that haunt them. He used the life of R. Kelly as an example, saying that Kelly was abused early in his life and noting how it has come out in the media recently that Kelly has allegedly abused others, including children.
“With generational curses, they can hurt,” Roaf said. “I know a lot of people may not have liked that, but with R. Kelly that is what we are hearing about. We don’t know everything that happened, but obviously something was going on. You have to use your influence and power with your endeavors in life. When you reach more accolades you have to use that to help people, and not hurt people.
“I’m in the Hall of Fame, but I’m still accountable every day. I can mess up tomorrow. I’m not saying R. Kelly doesn’t have a chance to change his ways, but it is going to be difficult for him. I know I’m accountable for me. I haven’t always been perfect. I have four children, and I was married once before I met the woman I’m married to now, and I want to bring those blessings on, so I’m trying to do things the right way.”
One way Roaf is trying to give back is through the Willie Roaf Foundation and other organizations that he can lend his time, money and efforts to.
“My foundation, I piggy-backed off of the Derrick Thomas Foundation when I was in Kansas City,” Roaf said. “I just come and do appearances to give back. They have the Willie Roaf award in Little Rock, and I just came back from that with the Little Rock Touchdown Club, an award for the top offensive linemen in high school and in college. I kind of just go around to different kinds of events and golf tournaments and just try to help them out. Monetarily, we will be helping out with the (PBICVR) PEN or PENCIL effort that Reverend Jessie Turner is doing. I just try to give back as much as I can.”
The PEN or PENCIL initiative is an educational group that teaches respect for life conflict resolutions, drug prevention education and youth community services programs. PEN stands for penitentiary, while PENCIL stands for education, the two choices for “students and others across the country who live in a fierce struggle between crime, violence, and a future,” a spokesman said.
ICVR is Arkansas’ lead PEN or PENCIL affiliate for the National Alliance of Faith and Justice and the local affiliate for the National CARES Mentoring Movement.
Members of the Divine Nine, the nine historically African American international Greek lettered fraternities and sororities, stole this year’s Marade Monday afternoon in downtown Pine Bluff after being led by grand marshal Roaf.
It only made sense for him to be ushered by The Interested Citizens for Voter Registration King Team and members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, the very fraternity that King became a member of in 1952 at Boston University.
Rather than showing up to see their favorite band or see elaborate floats, spectators said they were showing up for King.
“I came to the parade to support Dr. Martin Luther King — I came for the cause. Dr. King said let us all be as one and stick together, so I’m here for the celebration,” Doc Goins said.
With each passing of a band or banner, a little piece of King’s legacy was shared. Members of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Alpha Rho Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated marched behind banners that said: “Dr. King attended an HBCU.”
The sorority was also third place winner for the best banner contest organized by the Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Incorporated.
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated placed second for their hand-painted banner of King, Colin Kaepernick and former President Barack Obama that read: “Non-violence is a way of life for courageous people.”
Grace Evangelist Church won first place for their float.
LowAnn McCoy-Johnson of Grady said that UAPB was what she was most anxious to see. Johnson is currently transitioning from Los Angeles, California, back to her hometown of Grady because she loves the “country living.”
“Even though I enjoyed the other participants, but I was really looking forward to seeing UAPB. The girls are awesome. The band is awesome also, but I love the girls.”
As the crowd began to thin and the Marade came to an end, participants maintained that pride and energy as they marched into the banquet hall at Pine Bluff Convention center for an anti-violence rally for area students. Roaf challenged them to work hard start generational blessings.
“If they haven’t started already you kids have to start the generational blessings for your family,” Roaf said. “If you don’t have the right role model at home you have to find a mentor. I looked to family members, brothers, sisters, and coaches to guide me along the way. When people see this hall of fame ring — this ring is from a lot of hard work, but it started right here in Pine Bluff. You don’t get to the hall of fame without going through a struggle.”
Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington called for parents to support their children.
“We have to support these children — whether they are our biological children or not,” Washington said. “All children have to be embraced with love and support. I will tell you the thing that hurts me more than anything and the most difficult part of this job is hearing that a young person has lost his or her life. Like just this weekend an 18-year-old young man was killed. That’s hard.”
In a tweet this morning, King’s daughter Bernice King asked that people live the meaning of her father’s quotes.
“There will be an overflow of King quotes today. May there be an overflow of his love for humanity & his heartfelt commitment to eradicating injustice. We can’t, with truth and consciousness quote my father, while dehumanizing each other & sanctioning hate.”
At the end of the rally, winners of the Lorenzo Smith Band Award were announced. Smith was a band director, educator, and owner of Center Stage Music in Little Rock who passed away in 2014. Pine Bluff High and 34th Avenue Elementary best high school and elementary band, respectively.