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A 20-year tradition: Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Jonesboro

A look at two decades of history and what is next
Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 6:33 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 17, 2022 at 6:54 PM CST
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - A tradition in Region 8 that has gathered for 20 years to honor the life and work of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Craighead County Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade.

2002 marked the beginning of this tradition.

“They said they couldn’t believe a city of this size did not have a Martin Luther King Day celebration,” said Reverend Ray Scales, founder of the committee that puts on the parade.

Scales said it all started with just a simple conversation.

“So, he said Reverend Scales. So, I said yes sir. You working on the parade? I said no I am not,” said Scales. “He said when are you going to start working on the parade? I said I have no intention to start working on the parade. So, then he called again. So, then we said we’ll give it a shot.”

He knew starting something like this would be a challenge, but he was up for it.

A lot of time, donations, and help went into starting the celebration of King and all he believed in.

It soon became the fabric of Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas.

“The first two years were more challenging than any other year. So, after that and the third year it bloomed,” he said.

Scales said over time the celebration became bigger than he could imagine.

“That is one of the main things that Dr. King stood for, bringing people together from different races. And different groups, economically, socially whatever that was his main goal,” he said.

They started in churches in the community and eventually partnered with Arkansas State University to house the celebration.

The City of Jonesboro even made bus services available to help people get from place to place during the celebration.

“I did not know it had blossomed to where it is today, and I looked at those pictures. They would say it is too big. I would say, it’s too big,” he said. “I did it. Most of the work I did on the phone and emailing and stuff like that.”

I asked Scales how he felt after 20 years of putting this on for the community.

He said, proud.

“This is just not for the black community. It is for Jonesboro,” said Scales.

Scales spoke a lot about the future of the celebration. So, we also took a look at what is to come for the celebration.

Continuing a legacy of change and hope is not an easy task and with the world’s expectations and doubts on your shoulders, the fight for justice can be even harder.

“It’s very important to us in our organization that we give them [the youth] vision and we give them a platform to push that forward,” said Ashley Wilson, member of the Craighead County Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade Committee.

It’s always been said, children are the future.

“The theme this year is “it starts with me” and our young people are the face. They are the driving force of what we’re trying to do,” she said.

Wilson believes the future is in good hands.

“We did our peaceful rally I believe in 2020 and we had a young person that spoke at that, that was actually my son, a very bright young man and he has a vision,” she said. “He wants to unify people, he wants to be peaceful and he wants people to be on the same page but embraced one another and our differences.”

A vision that was amplified by Dr. Martin Luther King around 59 years ago and also a vision that provoked action in several just 20 years ago in Jonesboro.

“If they see that we are pushing forward, trying to unite, trying to push forward a peaceful movement, stand up for the things that are just and right, and then they’ll start to want to do that,” she said.

By setting the example, Wilson said children and young adults will not stray from the true meaning of change.

In fact, the Committee dedicates a day each year to ‘our future’ called youth day.

“They have their own day to provoke their message and put their talents out there and we love that day,” said Wilson.

It’s an opportunity to keep the message alive, but there’s one misconception that gets lost for some when it comes to MLK day.

“This day isn’t just about black people. It’s important because we are trying to promote a change in the black community with how we’re seen and how we’re treated and respected and equality. But, it’s for everybody,” she said. “If we can unify and we can work hard to get more people involved, we can push a stronger message.”

As they call on the whole community to step up, Wilson says she can’t forget those who came and paved the way for us all.

“We have to come together for one message and that is peaceful, nonviolent movement to provoke social change in our environment, the better for everybody,” she said.

The Committee has worked on more than just a celebration to honor King.

They have been instrumental in the progress of the community in this area.

In just the past year the Committee worked and succeeded in the renaming of Commerce Drive to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

This was a big step for them and for some a dream come true.

The committee is now working to select a location as a headquarter to continue their work all year long.

This year the celebration was a little different.

Reverend Ray Scales said the parade committee still wanted to make sure they honored Dr. Martin Luther King.

So, they did it virtually on Facebook Live.

Scales said although it was virtual that would not take away from the celebration.

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