SIKESTON -- A little pride and respect can make a world of difference and Harry Howard believes this weekend will help restore both in the Sunset community.
He and other event organizers invite Sikeston residents and former residents to celebrate "Return to Sunset Day" from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday in Roberta Rowe Park. There, they can participate in music, games, a talent show and learn a little more about the important role their ancestors played in the community.
Organizers are anticipating 200-300 individuals to attend.
"Pride and respect in the Sunset community have gone by the wayside and it's very alarming," said Howard, event co-chairman. "Those of us who are professionals wanted to have an annual day and a chance to come out to the park."
From 6-11 p.m. guests will gather at the old Lincoln School. "That was the black school that we all got trained at and it used to be so credible. Hopefully some people can buy that building to get it restored."
The goal of the event is to bring everyone together as a community and to do away with the negative connotation the Sunset community has had over the past several years.
Something Howard is especially excited about is the opportunity to hear residents reflect on what the community and Lincoln School meant to them growing up.
"What we want to do is revitalize everyone and to get more respect," said Howard, minister of music at Smith Chapel United Methodist Church and host of a weekly television program in Marion, Ill.
"This is the very first one we've ever had and it's getting to be a really big event. We just kept thinking let's get a hold of everyone around the country through our emails and everything and get everyone back here. Then we can decide what we can do next year to make it better. I really am just doubly excited about this. We'll be selling historical booklets that we've been putting together and some of the old teachers will be there."
Howard pointed out there is much history in the Sunset community. His sister Aileen for instance, was one of the first black teachers who taught at Lincoln School and his father, Ed, was Sikeston's first black police officer.
"I was going around the country doing a lot of teaching and got back here three years ago after being gone for 30 years. I was rather disappointed with the apathy and lack of overall community involvement," he said.
"This event is to build pride and respect and let people know that those that are from here are concerned. Our biggest concern are the people from the outside who are kind of hanging out and we don't know who they are. They don't understand we used to have cleaners, schools and stores and we have a lot of pride in our community. We think they can either join the wagon or, like the City is saying, they are invited to not be around."
When guests leave "Return to Sunset Day" organizers hope they take with them fond memories and ideas on how they can help preserve the rich heritage.
"When we first got integrated they were neat, decent people, church-going, law-abiding," Howard said. "The community was much more decent. I believe that respect and pride is missing from many people because they don't know the history of the community. In our black community, when slavery was here, there were people who lived in the homes with the owners and also the people who worked the field. So we had two different groups of blacks and sometimes there was fighting among themselves like 'they think they're so much because they're educated and they can't tell me what to do. I'll just keep having babies and staying on welfare.'
"Our goal is to try to let them see that we don't need to have divisions, we need to be unified and understand that black people have always been respectful and decent. It's the outsiders, the people who have migrated or just settled here, that come in and want to do the drugs, or hang on the corners. I think it's going to take communication and all the churches unifying themselves and keeping some community outreach programs on a regular basis to keep our community clean. And it's going to start with the Sunset Day."
For more information or to suggest ideas for next year, call Howard at 471-3859 or Everlean Gipson-Brown at 472-1064.