The Hancock County NAACP and its community partners will host "Sundays in the Park" every Sunday this month to help reclaim Martin Luther King Park in Bay St. Louis as a safe space for children.

The Hancock County NAACP has begun a new initiative to help "take back" Martin Luther King Park in Bay St. Louis for the children.

Starting this Sunday at 1 p.m. -- and every Sunday in July -- the group will host "Sundays in the Park," a family day focused on creating a safe play zone for local children.

MLK Park, at the corner of Washington Street and Old Spanish Trail, started as a family-oriented locale, but in since about the late 1990s, it has become less a safe haven for the community's children and more a place for adults to hang out, sometimes drink and to take and sell drugs. That trend culminated in tragedy last month when 23-year-old D'Ante Washington was fatally shot at the park. His friend Daquan Lewis, also 23, was also wounded. No arrests have yet been made in the case.

"Because there's been no youth activity at the park and people have been out there -- young men -- have been utilizing the space to hang out, smoke marijuana, maybe do a little drug peddling, it's become an unsafe place for our children," Hancock County NAACP President Gregory Barabino said Friday. "We are fighting back to utilize the park, to have activities going on to replace those illicit activities."

"We have dedicated at least the month of July, until the kids go back to school, to have at least weekly activities out there."

This Sunday's event will include free games, water slides and snow-cones for the children. On July 15, the theme will be "Art," with multiple art projects going on. On July 22, the Bay Ratz Marching Battery will perform, and the theme will be "Gospel Music" with guest speaker Rev. Maston and guest performer Chase the Truth from New Orleans.

"We've got a lot of resources," Barabino said. "There are a lot of people supporting it."

Barabino said community partners in the Sundays in the Park effort include the Youth Work Force of Hancock County; Pear River Community College; WIN Job Center; Blue Magic Fitness; NASA employees; Radio station 1190 AM and 104.3 FM; Young World, Inc. mentoring; Tobacco Free Coalition; Waterslides of the Gulf Coast; B.O.N.E. Cuts Barber Shop; The Social Chair; Gulf Coast Tattoo; Waveland Helping Hands Organization; and Avery's Catering.

Anyone who wants to participate, join, donate or volunteer can call Barabino at 501-554-1753.

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