ELIZABETHTOWN — Organizers of an upcoming holiday celebration are hoping to merge two normally dichotomous ideas — tradition and progress.
On Monday, Jan. 15, many Americans will observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday set aside to honor the civil rights spirit and the progress prompted by its namesake. In Bladen County, the celebration — geographically centered around Paul R. Brown Leadership Academy — lasts four days.
This year, festivities will also give a nod to one of the nation’s oldest traditions.
“We want to honor our military veterans,” said Fletcher “Big Show” Collins, organizer of many of the weekend’s activities.
On Saturday, the sixth annual Unification Bike Ride will take place, with hundreds of bikers — many of them members of Collins’ own group, Dedicated Soulz — participating in a ride around the county. Bikers will meet at Paul R. Brown at 2 p.m., and kickstands will go up at 3 p.m. Participants will ride down N.C. 87 to N.C. 11, go across N.C. 74 to N.C. 211, then turn on U.S. 701 before returning to their starting point.
Along the way, however, they’ll make a stop for veterans.
“We want local vets to meet in the (Elizabethtown post office) parking lot,” Collins explained. “When the bikers come around, we’ll get off our bikes and salute the vets.”
Patriotic music will be played during the encounter, after which bikers will return to their planned route.
The bike ride is just one part of the weekend-long activities, dubbed Unity in the Community.
Things actually kick off Friday, with what Collins called a meet-and-greet, a time of fellowship, “mellow music, and maybe a bonfire, if it’s cold.” At 5 p.m., the gates officially open, welcoming campers and cookers alike to the meal that follows.
“I’ll be camping out all weekend, and we invite anybody who wants to come out,” Collins said. “You can have a camper, a pop-up, a tent — anything.”
The camaraderie will continue Saturday with a Unity March starting at 11 a.m.
“I’m calling every single pastor, evangelist, missionary, or Christian to march for unity in Jesus Christ,” Collins challenged. “I want folks in neighboring states and communities to know that in little old Bladen County we can put our differences aside and come together in the name of Jesus.”
The Unity March will leave the Elizabethtown municipal building at 11 a.m. and make its way to Paul R. Brown Academy, where Fletcher said the group will form a circle and pray over the community. Saturday afternoon will witness the Unity Bike Ride.
Sunday’s activities include day-long concerts by soloists, groups, and bands, as well as a stunt show.
“We’re trying to have a little something for everybody,” Collins explained.
Sunday is also seafood day, when crab legs, shrimp and oysters will be cooked around a bonfire in the evening.
Monday morning — called “Main Event Monday” — the 30th annual MLK parade will take place in downtown Elizabethtown. More than 100 community groups, marching bands, step teams, drill teams, queens and kings, civic groups, and elected officials will gather at 805 W. Broad St. at 9 a.m. Participants will head east on Broad Street, turn on Poplar Street and head south, finishing their promenade in the Fresh Foods parking lot.
Dedicated Soulz will be participating in the parade, led by Collins’ “military bike” and a hand-painted memorial to fallen soldiers Collins has been working on since last year.
Following the parade, a fellowship meal will be served. While free finger foods will be handed out all weekend, and seafood will be served on Sunday, Collins called Monday’s meal “the big one.”
“We’ll have one or two or three hogs cooking, fried chicken, grilled chicken, pots of chicken and rice, collards, potato salad, mac and cheese — I mean, we have the works,” he said.
Collins stressed that all the weekend’s activities — including food — are free; no advance registration is required for anything but the parade; and all community members are invited.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing email@example.com.