A native son will have the distinction of bringing the message for this year's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade and Celebration.
Devon Pruitt will be keynote speaker at the 14th annual event commemorating the legacy of the civil rights leaders. Because the Presidential Inauguration is on the day of the national observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday (Jan. 21), this year's local observance will be held Jan. 19 at Dumont Plaza in downtown Meridian.
"It is our hope that the community will be able to participate in this historic remembrance of Dr. King and his great works," said Greg Lane, chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Parade and Celebration Committee.
"Because the Presidential Inauguration is going to be Monday, and we felt a lot of people would be prone to watching the events on TV instead of getting out, we moved the event to Saturday," Lane said.
Pruitt, a 2011 graduate of Meridian High School, is widely recognized for his dynamic oratorical skills. Early in his youth, he presented King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech at churches and special programs throughout the community.
As this year's MLK Parade and Program keynote speaker, Pruitt joins the ranks of college presidents, political figures and community leaders – an honor for which is both humbled and appreciative.
"For the committee to have chosen a second-year college student to come home and speak at one of the city's major community events is a tad bit overwhelming," he said. "I have spoken on many stages – nationally and internationally – but this is by far the most special to me because my Meridian family chose me for such a significant event at such a vulnerable time for the community.
Pruitt will base his presentation of this year's holiday theme: "Rescue the Perishing, Together we can save our youth as we fulfill the dream." Noting the theme's multi-dimensional topic, Pruitt said he plans to look at various aspects of the community and play "The Blame Game."
"I'm going to view how different aspects of the Meridian community have contributed to this problem, but more importantly, how can we put aside how we contributed to it and just get to solving it," he said. "I'm looking at the church, I'm looking at the local government, I'm looking at the schools, I'm looking at 'community leaders,' I'm looking at parents and then ultimately, I'm looking at who's responsible: the youth themselves."
Pruitt is a political science major, sociology minor at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, where he is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and James S. Kemper Scholar. A Dean's List student, Pruitt is a member of Alpha Lambda Delta honor society and Xavier's Public Policy Club and serves as a student congressman to the Student Government Association. His civic memberships include the Holy Name Society and Meridian's Metropolitan Lodge of the IBPOEW (Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the World.
Pruitt is the son of Tammie Jennings and Troy Smith, both of Meridian.
The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade and Celebration will begin with the parade, which begins at noon.
Churches, school and youth groups and organizations, school bands as well as social and civic clubs, organizations and individuals are encouraged to sponsor an entry in the parade. The deadline for entry is Jan. 16. For information about sponsorship categories and fees, call Greg Lane at (601) 934-5528 or Pamela Graham at (601) 2752.
Other MLK Events
• Monday – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, 8 a.m., Boys and Girls Club of East Mississippi. Featured speaker: Meridian Attorney Kenneth Dustin Markham. Theme: "A Product of the Dream: The Promise, The Power, The People." Donation: $6. Sponsored by the Meridian/Lauderdale County Branch, NAACP.
• Monday – MLK Birthday Observance Celebration, 1 p.m., Meridian Community College McCain Theater, Ivy Hall.
• Friday – 30th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Service, 10 a.m., Naval Air Station Meridian, in Rudders. Keynote speaker will be NAS Meridian Administrative Officer Lt. Leon Leflore. Civilian guests can begin entering the main gate after 9 a.m. The driver should have a driver's license, vehicle registration and proof of vehicle insurance and all others should have photo IDs ready to present upon arrival.
• Jan. 20 – Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Candlelight March and Memorial Service. Lineup for the march will begin at 6:15 p.m., at the corner of 16th Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (former site of the Baptist Seminary building) and will proceed to historic First Union Missionary Baptist Church, 610 38th Ave. The memorial service will begin at 7 p.m. and will feature the Rev. Dr. Zachary S. Operton, pastor of Prince of Peace Christian Fellowship Church, as guest speaker.