WATER VALLEY – A fundraiser scheduled by the Junior Auxiliary (JA) of Water Valley has sparked concern for some in the community. The 2019 Valley Dash 3K is scheduled October 26 and a portion of the course passes through the city-owned Oak Hill Cemetery.
The controversy partially stems from the organization’s flyer promoting the 3K as a spooky run.
“Run Through the City Cemetery Road… If you dare…” is printed on the flyer, which also includes pictures of Halloween characters in a graveyard.
In an attempt to clear up any confusion, JA provided additional information about the event in a letter to the editor in this week’s Herald, explaining the entire 3K run/walk will take place on paved, public roads including the portion of the course that extends through the cemetery. The organization also reports that there will be no disrespectful behavior taking place in the cemetery nor any other part of the run.
JA President Anna Langham also told the Herald that the event is a fundraiser for Project Santa.
“The money that we raise from this event is for the children in this community. The kids that don’t have anything, who aren’t going to have a Christmas,” Langham explained. “We cannot serve these children otherwise.”
But for Jonnie Mayo, who has multiple generations of family members buried in Oak Hill along with her late husband, the organization had other route options that could have bypassed the cemetery.
“To me, the cemetery is a place of quiet reflection and rest, not a place for activity and Halloween adventures,” Mayo told the Herald. She also said attempts were made to work with JA to change the route.
Mayo also noted that people in the community including some JA Life members offered to donate money to JA in lieu of having the fundraiser to squelch any negativity associated with the event.
Like Mayo, others also voiced their opinion against the run by submitting letters to the editor in this week’s Herald.
“Should this event proceed, it shows a disrespect of those who are buried there and to the families… The goal of what the JA is doing may be noble. However the method is very wrong,” J.A. Smith wrote.
“As good as the intentions were, this is a total disrespect to all of those who have loved ones buried there,” Glenda Griffith added in her letter.
Discussion on the fundraiser first surfaced last month during the Board of Aldermen meeting when JA officials requested permission for the event. Aldermen tentatively granted the request which included the stretch through the cemetery, but requested the course not include crossing Blackmur Drive due to safety concerns for participants.
In October’s Board of Alderman meeting, JA officials presented an alternate route which would not cross Blackmur Drive but would still utilize the public street that passes through the cemetery. That request was denied after Alderman-at-Large Herbie Rogers and Mayor Donald Gray both shared feedback from their constituents that utilizing the cemetery was disrespectful.
That decision was reversed four days later, during a special meeting on Oct. 4, after JA requested city officials to revisit their request and aldermen voted unanimously to allow the run to pass through the cemetery.
Even with the vote, final approval for the event must come from the Water Valley police chief according to a 1989 ordinance that requires a public event to be permitted by the police department.
Police Chief Jason Mangrum reported the ordinance leaves little room for interpretation and the JA event meets the criteria spelled out in the ordinance.
“The ordinance says you shall grant the permit unless it unreasonably interferes with the proper fire and police protection,” Mangrum told the Herald.
“The route JA is proposing is all secondary streets with minimal traffic impact and minimal safety risks,” Mangrum said.
Both Langham and longtime JA member Sandra Bennett reiterated that the money raised is vital for Project Santa.
“Last year we served 107 children,” Bennett explained. “Some of these kids are asking for food, it is very humbling.”
The ladies added that the negative publicity has impacted the success of the fundraiser, money that comes from business sponsorships and the $24 entry fee.
“We need to raise several thousand dollars,” Langham added.