Jacob Mast saw a need to bring people together and build relationships between two diverse groups of Newton County residents, from the east side of town and the west side of town.
He envisioned a small cookout with friends and law enforcement officers sitting down and talking. Along with the meal would be a walk to show that the community was indeed in unity.
Fast forward three months and Mast’s Community in Unity event will have more than 30 vendors, games for children, a cheerleading competition from the Newton County Recreation Commission, musical acts such as Country singers Dustin Bragg and Drew Parker and R&B singer Yooklee Gray, guest speakers and several televisions broadcasting the Georgia vs. Florida football game.
The event is this Saturday, Oct. 29, starting at 11 a.m. at Legion Field on Mill Street in Covington.
“The initial idea was very small; just a cook out, with friends, few cops, and then do a small walk — not a march but a unified walk — with people who shared the same vision of what they want this town to be like and stay like,” Mast said. “Now we have over 3,500 in the group and on Facebook. To me, it’s just amazing. I never believed it would be where it is today.”
The event, he says, is designed to not only bring community members together with other community members but also to bridge any gap there may be between youth and law enforcement.
“I just really think it will be something positive for the community and for kids, who have this false sense of what cops are like,” Mast said. “Especially for kids who have this false sense of what cops are like, and to interact with cops, and see that cops are not bad. It’s kind of like breaking that chain, that lie, that cops are bad but at the same time I want cops to see people for who they are as well.”
Among the eight featured speakers at Community in Unity will be Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton. Others scheduled are Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston, Melvin J. Everson, Director of the State of Georgia’s Equal Opportunity Commission and several ministers.
“No one knew who I was but when people saw what this could mean, people started joining and coming together and helping support this idea,” Mast said.
For him, the idea came when he was sitting with his son while watching the news of the shootings in Dallas.
“I didn’t want something like that to happen in my town, or my son was not around me and school shootings,” Mast said. “I just rather be proactive than reactive. And at the same time, I’m not naïve to think something like that couldn’t happen here. The vision I saw was like this big family reunion.”
Others saw his vision as well, including Walmart and Kroger which have donated items for the event, including around 1,500 hotdogs.
Several other groups have donated items and money as well. If there are any leftover funds, Mast said, they will donate some of the proceeds to food drives to help people for Thanksgiving.