The theme for this year’s Ralph Bunche Community Development Cooperation Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration will be “We Are Better Together.”

“Normally we would take a theme from one of Dr. King’s speeches,” said Benton Alderman and Event Chair Evelyn Reed. “This year we used one from Elder Willie Barnes Jr. He is one of our strong community leaders in the Ralph Bunche Community.”

Barnes is the pastor of Elect Temple Church of God in Christ and according to Reed, the “We Are Better Together” theme came from him. The theme was originally part of community wide worship services where churches across the city would gather to worship as one.

Reed also noted that this year’s celebration will take place all on the same day, Jan. 20. In the past, the prayer breakfast was held the Friday prior.

“One of the reasons we are having it on Monday is because we want everybody to come,” said Linda Smith, another of the event’s organizers. “Anybody who wants to come can come."

Reed added that they are hoping for 200 or more to be part of the day’s events.

The day of celebration will kick off with a prayer breakfast sponsored by First Baptist Church, located at 211 South Market St. in Benton. Breakfast service, provided free by the church, will begin at 7:30 a.m. with the program itself starting at 8 a.m.

Following the breakfast, the day of service will continue with a community cleanup at the Ralph Bunche Community Center, located at 1600 Dixie St. The activities will begin at 9:30 a.m. and will include some new elements.

“This year we are planning and hoping for more volunteers than we’ve had in the past by doing everything on that Monday,” Reed said. “We are looking at doing different projects other than just the community cleanup in the Ralph Bunche Community. We are looking at branching outside and also doing a nursing home ministry. We are going to have a group putting together goodie bags and take those to the nursing homes.”

Reed said they are also planning to target homebound people in the community and provide services like lawn care.

The annual MLK parade will begin lining up at 2:30 p.m. in front of C.W. Lewis Stadium in Downtown Benton. The parade itself will begin at 3 p.m. on South Market Street.

The Great Gathering will be on the lawn in front of the historic Saline County Courthouse directly following the parade and include free food and drinks.

“(Mayor Tom Farmer) will be speaking,” Reed said. “We will also present the winners of the parade with trophies and gift cards.”

Awards will be presented for the best floats along with MLK essay contest winners from the Benton School District.

Sponsors for this year's events include Everette Buick GMC, First Baptist Church of Benton, the Central Arkansas Development Council, The Ralph Bunche Neighborhood Association, local churches, Big Red Stores, First Security Bank and The Saline Courier.

The parade float winners will receive trophies and gift cards provided by Big Red Stores which will also be providing a portion of the free food. First Security Bank will provide free hot dogs while Everett Buick GMC will also be providing free food and drinks, as well as, vehicles for use during the community service projects.

“Everett Buick GMC is always a big sponsor and supporter of our MLK day,” Reed said. “They’ve been (with us) every year.”

Reed also said that it’s important for the community to know that all of the MLK events are completely free to the public. There are no entry fees for parade floats and all food and drinks at every event will also be provided free of charge thanks to the event sponsors. The deadline to sign up for the parade is Jan. 19.

To participate in the parade or become a volunteer, contact Reed at 501-672-5764 or Smith at 501-844-1964. Information is also available on the event page at www.facebook.com/MLKbenton.

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