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story.lead_photo.caption Barbara Larry leads the crowd with the song "Lift Every Voice" at last year's 18th annual African American Voice at the Texarkana Regional Arts Center in Texarkana, Texas. Photo by Hunt Mercier / Texarkana Gazette.

By Aaron Brand

Texarkana Gazette

TEXARKANA, Texas — Martin Luther King Jr.'s spirit, wisdom and accomplishments will be celebrated Friday night in honor of the holiday named for this beloved civil rights leader.

The Regional Arts Center will host the 19th annual African American Voice: An Evening of Performance with Special Moments for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Starting at 6:30 p.m., this occasion recognizes King's contributions by candle-lighting and a choir performance.

The event is organized by the TRAHC African American Committee, which this year is marking two decades of contributing to Texarkana with a focus on African American history and culture.

"Because it is our special year, we're doing five little mini-celebrations. This is one of the first ones," said Dr. Teretha Harper of TAAC. "Because we have five annual programs."

The night includes a candlelight service and day of service pledge cards, plus discussion about Dr. King's message.

"Our musical performance this year is the Zion District Choir," Harper said. TAAC members heard them perform at a MLK Jr. program at Dunbar Early Education Center in Texarkana. "They are good. They are good." She compares them to a college choir.

"They will sing songs like 'Wade in the Water,' 'Blessed Assurance,' 'Oh, Freedom,' 'Lift Every Voice and Sing,' 'Amazing Grace,'" Harper said. "Those songs had something to do about freedom and justice, peace." Added TAAC's Treva West, the candles will be lit in reference to King's six principles of nonviolence.

The theme of this year's program is "Sounds for Change."

"TAAC made some changes for the Texarkana community from 2000 to 2020," Harper said.

Local artist Cedric Watson has also designed and created a piece for this year's African American Voice. He'll present it at the program.

Over these 20 years, TAAC has modified and transformed its programs to meet what the community wants and needs related to African American culture and art. "All of our programs have changed in some way over time," Harper said. They started with a meet-and-greet event, but then changed it. A Motown Revue was added.

During the African American Voice, recognition will be made to board members and staff at the Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council who were instrumental in forming TAAC. They, or their family members to represent them, have been invited to the festivities.

"We have invited the founders of this organization. They are Ruth Ellen Whitt, Brian Goesl, Nita Fran Hutcheson, Joyce Campbell, Rita Williams, Edna Shepherd, Marvin Brewster and Elaine Denmon," Harper said. Add Dr. George Bohmfalk to that group, too.

At the time, there wasn't much at the Arts Center or the Perot Theatre for African Americans, she explained. "They came together in 2000 and decided to complete the cultural landscape in Texarkana," she said. The focus was to look at African American culture and heritage.

"So they came together and started working," Harper said. They'll attend to mark 20 years of TAAC programming. "That's going to be a very, very special moment."

(Admission is fee. The Regional Arts Center is located at 321 W. 4th St. in Texarkana, Texas. More info: 903-792-8681.)

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