Hit parade: Bethel native has big ideas to kick-start Christmas celebration in small town | Local news

When social media comic Davonte Jones talks about having 62 entries for this weekend’s parade in Bethel, population of 1,700, people may wonder if this is one of his video pranks DeeBoy12. But he wasn’t kidding when he approached the mayor earlier this fall to revive the city’s Christmas parade.

The tagline #AndItIsSo, a nod to his Christian upbringing, has become synonymous with the Bethel native, 25, who uses it in his clothing line and as a sort of seal of approval for his restaurant reviews in line. It symbolizes Jones’ belief that what he hopes to achieve will come to pass.

This is exactly what seems to be happening in Bethel, which is gearing up for its first Christmas parade since 2019. Dozens of entries, from the South Central High School Marching Band to churches, Girl Scouts and dance teams have signed up. for the Saturday morning event in North Pitt County. Also on the schedule, Bethel’s very first tree-lighting ceremony on Friday and a downtown Christmas show on Saturday, complete with music, food and vendors.

“A lot of people aren’t in the holiday spirit,” said Jones, who works with Partnership CAREE and about three dozen volunteers to help organize “This is the season” events. “We want to be a light in Bethel and tell people that there is still hope.”

Earlier this fall, Mayor Gloristine Brown was unsure there was hope for a Christmas parade this year. Bethel, like many communities across the country, canceled last year’s event due to COVID-19.

But even after the virus transmission rates fell, this year’s parade was starting to look a lot like a canceled Christmas. Hometown Bethel, a group responsible for organizing the parade for several years, had disbanded.

“We really didn’t have anyone in the community who was ready to step in and say, ‘OK, let’s get this parade back,’ Brown said. “Davonte called me and said, ‘Mayor Brown, we want to do something.'”

Even though she thought October seemed too late to start planning a show in early December, Brown was reluctant to say no. She had known Jones since he was a child and she knew he had a passion for his community.

“I was like, ‘OK. If you think you can do it, go for it, ”she said.

This is not the first time that Bethel residents have had to work to restart their Christmas parade. Brown remembers the city going years without such an event until former Mayor Mike Whitehurst helped get things done.

“Mike would say anyone and everyone and anything,” said Brown, who has been mayor since 2014. “He said if you have a chicken and you want to put a leash on it, you can. walk in the parade. “

Jones had a few different ideas on what he thought he could fly, but he wanted the event to be inclusive. Organizers agreed early on to follow the city’s tradition of waiving entrance fees so those who wished to join the parade could do so.

“The reason is that I want to give business owners the ability to advertise their business,” Jones said. “It really hurts people here, not just at Bethel but just around. “

He also wanted to do more than toss candy along the parade route; Jones was considering giving gifts to the children. Tonya Foreman, founder of Partnership CAREE (Citizens Advocating for Racing Equity and Equality) joined the effort, helping it exceed the goal of more than 300 freebies to distribute on Saturday.

“It was one of Davonte’s visions, to be able to put something in the hands of the young people who came to participate in the parade,” said Foreman, adding that making that vision a reality was a community effort. “He has a genuine love for the community and he wants to be part of the solution for this region. He was consistent with that in action.

His serious civic goals might surprise people who have only seen Jones as DeeBoy12 on TikTok and Facebook Live, where his social media followers have seen him do phone pranks or other shenanigans such as driving through Chic-fil. -A and ask to pick up his order of holiday cabbages (which are not on the menu). His most-watched video was in March 2020, when he started singing (and screaming) after tasting a Wendy’s Chicken and Honey Butter Cookie.

Jones, who worked for various fast food restaurants at the time, said the video fired him, but it ultimately led to the launch of his production company DeeBoy12. Since then, his online restaurant reviews have started to generate income.

Foreman, whose work with Jones had focused on hosting community events, was unaware of his social media personality until a recent luncheon at Coffee + Spice on Fifth Street.

“He’s a fun-loving guy in general, but I hadn’t seen this role, the food critic,” she said with a laugh. “I was in awe. He turned a Christmas carol into a song about the chicken and waffles he was eating, and he did it in the moment, impromptu.… I was in awe.”

This weekend’s Bethel Christmas Parade should also be a bit improvised, as the event was put on too quickly for most attendees to build a float. Still, Brown is excited about the festivities, which are a bit bigger than what the city has hosted in recent years.

“Davonte took that and took it to a whole new level,” she said. “He was determined to do something for his city, bring people together and have a good time during the holidays.

“I’m really proud of him,” Brown said. “He has a serious side when you need to. “

The lighting for Bethel’s Christmas tree will take place at 6 p.m. Friday on Railroad Street. The Christmas parade will begin Saturday at 10 a.m. along Main Street. A downtown Christmas extravaganza will follow from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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