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This year's 18th annual African American Voice: An Evening of Performance puts the focus on the future by showcasing youth.

Held Friday, Jan. 18, at 6:30 p.m. downtown at the Regional Arts Center, the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his teachings features a night of young performers who exemplify King's encouraging, inspiring words.

Presented by the Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council's African American Committee, this annual event kicks off celebrations of King's birthday weekend. TAAC's Dr. Teretha Harper and Vicki Parks have organized this event, Harper saying that people appreciate what it brings.

"They have said that your program is a little bit different from the other programs that happen in the city," Harper said. They aim to set the stage for other celebrations. And this year, TAAC adopted the theme of "Stepping Forward," connecting it to youth.

Harper said King expressed how all of us can serve. "We all serve in different ways, but we all can serve," she said.

So this year, they're focusing on something new for the program: King's messages about service. Everyone can be included there, but this event focuses more on young people serving. Part of this happens via school, but it's also by serving in church, neighborhoods and through families.

"They're universal. They fit everybody. It's for everybody because he was always for the better good of all mankind. He said all God's children, is what he said," Harper said about King's messages to promote service.

Parks said the talented youth involved in this event are involved in the community. "We just think that this is a good time to promote that with the theme of stepping forward with their service," she said. They'll promote "positive, powerful social change," she said, via the arts.

Performers include a dancer and a pianist.

"And then we're going to have The Scholars Drum line. They've won local awards. You've seen them before. They will be our opening act, The Scholars Drum line," Parks said. "And then we're going to end the evening with a jazz combo from Arkansas High School."

Parks said through the years she's chaired this event no one has declined to participate. "That's one of the reasons we're here for 18 years," she said. The event often fills Cabe Hall on the RAC's second floor.

African American Voice has had various themes, but this year the entire program is dedicated to the young and talented. "For the first time ever, all youth performers," Parks said.

As it is every year, a candle-lighting ceremony will recognize King, a way to pay respects to the late civil rights leader and his principles.

"We think that the students, they are using their knowledge that they are gaining at school, church and other places in order to be the servants that Dr. King talked about," Harper said, noting King talked about making a better world for children.

Reminders of King's life and what he stood for will be shared by Barbara Larry in between acts. Organizers say the diverse audience always looks forward to returning for next year's event.

"Our mission is education, entertainment, empowering. The message that's going to be conveyed at this program as well as our other program says that we can all work together, we do work together, to make Texarkana a better place," Harper said.

The event is free and open to the public.

(More info: TRAHC.org.)

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