Tuesday, January 12, 2016

TOP STORY >> Black history banquet Feb. 12

The George Washington Carver High School Alumni Association wants to build a multicultural center, like this artist’s rendering, on the site of the original school on Frank T. Bunton St, named for its first principal.

The George Washington Carver High School Alumni Association in Lonoke will hold its seventh annual Black History Month Banquet at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12 in the Lonoke Primary School cafeteria.

The group includes graduates and attendees of the former African American high school in Lonoke prior to the town’s integration in 1970. The school once occupied a wood-frame building on a street now named for Carver’s first principal, F.T. Bunton.

“This annual event serves as our largest fundraiser. Currently, the association’s fundraising focus is our educational outreach — including the Homework Hotline tutoring and mentoring program and annual scholarship for graduating seniors at Lonoke High School — and our building program, which endeavors to construct a new 5,500 square-foot multicultural center on the former site of the historic Carver Gymnasium,” said Ryan Biles, a member of the Carver Alumni Association’s board of directors and co-chair of the board’s Building and Grounds Committee.

Henry Bryant Jr., president of the Carver Alumni Association, said, “To me, Black History is directly related to Professor Bunton and how he encouraged me personally.”

“While the original structures are gone, the spirit of education and unity is carried on by the Alumni Association, which exists to inspire and further this legacy of learning in the new generation,” according to a news release.

Biles said, “Of the many unique advantages that make Lonoke a special place to live, one is undoubtedly the fact that we have multiple generations living alongside one another as neighbors. (It) provides a constant opportunity to share the lessons and perspectives of those who experienced our collective history and are now building upon that foundation a unified community for an upcoming generation of leaders.”

Bryant added, “History itself is a conglomeration of people coming together and creating a great idea. It takes all of us.”

The Black History Month Banquet, attended by the community’s leaders in education, business and politics, is one of the group’s most significant programs, which includes a keynote speaker of significant leadership and accomplishment from the African American community. Past speakers include Surgeon General Dr. Jocyelyn Elders, Arkansas Baptist College president Fitz Hill, UAPB President L.A. Davis and author Patricia Knott.

This year’s speaker is Dr. M.A. Parker, a native of Wilmot (Ashley County) and an accomplished biologist. She is a graduate the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff and an inductee in the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Outdoor Hall of Fame.

She is the youngest of 11 children, Mamie Parker pursued her education and rose through the ranks of several state conservation agencies nationwide before becoming the nation’s first African American to be a regional director and assistant director of Fisheries and Habitat Conservation at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington.

Biles said, “When I learned of Dr. Parker’s story last year in a profile on the radio, I immediately knew that she would be an ideal leader to introduce to Lonoke. To me, she represents the best of our state, and her accomplishments are inspiring to students and young professionals in small and rural Delta communities such as ours. Considering the unique position that Lonoke holds as a center for the aquaculture industry, the site of the state’s largest fish hatchery, and our connection to the fisheries program at UAPB, the banquet is an ideal opportunity to connect with Dr. Parker and highlight her academic expertise and a common background that is so relevant to our region.”

The year’s national theme of Black History Month is “Hallowed Ground: Sites of African American Memories.”

The dinner will be held on the 207th birthday of President Abraham Lincoln. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets are $25 each and are available for purchase from banquet chairwoman Alice Rufus, Ryan Biles or any member of the Carver Alumni Association’s board. Tables of 10 cost $225 and are recommended for businesses, churches or civic groups.

Bryant also encourages local businesses to partner with the association as presenting sponsors to help with costs associated with the banquet. For details, call him at 501-533-7002 or Biles at 501-590-5478.

For more information, visit the group’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CarverAlumniLonoke.