PINE BLUFF, Ark. — Change will soon be coming to Pine Bluff— and local leaders have been doing their part to create a more positive, healthy, and productive city.
In her recent State of the City Address, Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington laid out the state of the city and what the future holds.
“The state of the city is strong. It’s one of steady progress and positive changes,” Mayor Washington said. "These changes are all contributing to the overall revitalization of Pine Bluff, but revitalization also requires patience."
She went on to explain that it'll take several years to build the city that they want and deserve.
"We must not waiver," she added.
In her address, Mayor Washington laid out recent wins for the city, which included appointing a new police chief, new law enforcement initiatives, education achievements, additional youth programs, and advancements in the city’s infrastructure.
Since then, she has been looking to rally community leaders across Pine Bluff to help her in the revitalization process.
Raymond Joshua has answered that call and has been pushing for a better Pine Bluff for years.
Not only is Joshua a native of the city, but he is also a local business owner and an instructor at the Pine Bluff Aquatic Center.
He holds a water aerobics class throughout the week in the morning.
"Water aerobics is so powerful. People don't know how good it works for them until they come and do it," he shared.
Joshua’s goal is to create a healthier Pine Bluff by combating common health issues that commonly plague low-income and African-American communities–like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and arthritis due to health disparities.
"When I first started here, I had two people in my class,” he said.
Now, he's up to about 30 adults who have all been actively working to stay fit and healthy.
“What I try to do is, I try to teach them like I would at a normal gym setting. We do some of the same movements, curls, body presses, squats," he described.
The $12 million facility had been in the works since 2011 and finally opened back in 2019.
Though it's more than just a building— places and programs like this one mark a distinct shift for Pine Bluff.
"Before this facility was built, it had been more than three decades since this community had a public swimming pool,” Mayor Washington said.
The success of the city's aquatics center has been a great step, but definitely not the last step in Pine Bluff's push towards a promising future.
Also on the horizon are a new hotel, apartments, a plaza, a go-cart park, as well as the revitalization of streets and historic buildings.
Improvements have also been happening nearby at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
UAPB Chancellor, Dr. Laurence Alexander, explained that their revitalization centers around revamping older buildings.
"New construction of a student engagement center that's going to be a great place for our students to get assistance with student success," he added.
Dr. Alexander also said that the center will help students land jobs after graduating, while also focusing on health and wellness.
“We've invested in a food pantry on campus to deal with any food insecurity issues that students may have. We are also moving into the area of urban gardens," he said.
Revitalization requires investment and Dr. Alexander has called on more investment from the state and federal government, plus more investments from corporations.
While investment from all levels will certainly help move Pine Bluff towards a promising future, Pastor Christopher Mack at Highland Ministries wants more of a focus on families and for them to invest in return.
“I would love to see family engagement, more things we can do as a family," Pastor Mack explained.
Mack hopes that revitalizing the family unit will reawaken the right things in Pine Bluff, rather than the wrong.
"I feel like angry youth turn into angry adults, and I think a lot of it is our youth not having enough to do in order to express themselves,” he said.
His church has already begun doing some of that work, too. Every Wednesday, the church holds what he calls a "safe space."
“Where they can talk about how to deal with depression, how to make great decisions, how to use your time wisely, and building who I am as a person," Pastor Mack described.
Mack, like so many other Pine Bluff leaders, hopes their efforts will continue to revitalize and reawaken the best Pine Bluff has to offer.
“We don't want to see our university remain in the past, we want to see it continue to grow and prosper, and we want to see the city of Pine Bluff grow and prosper simultaneously,” Dr. Alexander said.
“You would be amazed with what we are doing down here. We're actually changing lives,” Joshua said.
All of this is being done in the hopes of creating a more positive Pine Bluff.