Children were everywhere it seemed at the 19th annual Big Community Cookout: A day of nonviolence and a drug-free community. The event was held last Saturday afternoon, November 3, at Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church. An estimated 2,800 individuals were in attendance throughout the day.
The event, which was slated to run between the hours of 12 noon and 3 p.m., began at 10:30 and ran to almost 6 p.m. due to a huge turnout.
Leroy Williams, founder and president of the Pensacola Community Arts & Recreation Association (PCARA), the main organizer for Saturday’s cookout, says the program had many sponsors to make it event successful.
“We partnered with business all over Pensacola, along with the media, to pull the community as a whole in a effort,” said Williams. “Pensacola State College is a huge part of this event in making it happen. They are our actual biggest supporter in all that we do.”
Tonya Clark, a volunteer with PCARA for seven years, said the event is useful in that it advocates for positivity.
“This event helps to keep kids of the streets and to let them know that violence is not the way to go,” Clark said. “You can still have fun without shooting or stabbing … so many of us are being killed because we hang around the wrong crowd.”
Williams said the cookout originally began as an anti-drug rally in 1987.
“At that [time] it was called the big rally,” Williams said. “We would meet on the steps of the court house and we would march all the way to the jail house to send a signal to those who decided they wanted to continue to use drugs … every year we would grow in numbers.”
Williams said the focus morphed and broadened over the years to more of a community giveback event.
“After six years we changed it to the Big Community Cookout and every since then we’ve had people come out in record numbers to support our efforts,” he said.
“Our major objective of the day is to replace violence and drug abuse in our community with god first, unity, love and respect,” Williams continued. “It felt like we definitely accomplished that.”
On Saturday, various children choirs, praise dancers and even gospel rap artists performed for a large crowd in Zion Hope’s gymnasium. Vendors, located in the church’s lobby, provided information to attendees on various health and social issues.
“A lot of times people in the community are in need,” Williams said regarding the information given out on Saturday. “We want to make sure that if a person wanted education that they had the opportunity.”
Williams says next year he wants the event to be bigger and better.
“Our goal in the future is to go for more than one day – to probably make [the event] a whole weekend of nothing but giving back to the community.”
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