An expansive parade, an outdoor ecumenical prayer service and a performance by a Grammy-winning gospel singer will highlight the July Fourth weekend in Edgewood and Joppatowne.
"This weekend will definitely be one people will remember," said Paul Diggs, an Abingdon business owner, who has done much of the organizing.
The all-volunteer "Forerunners of Change," motivated by a desire to change the image of a southern Harford County beset by gangs, violence and crime to one of families playing, praying and working together for the betterment of neighborhoods, have organized events to highlight community pride during the three-day holiday celebration.
The volunteers secured a $5,000 grant from the county and put together an eight-day carnival that helped raise another $4,000 to offset some of the costs of the festivities.
"This got a lot larger than I ever anticipated," Diggs said.
For Diggs, "the biggest buzz" centers on singer CeCe Winans. The popular artist, who released Thy Kingdom Come, her eighth solo project this spring, will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa. The church can accommodate about 1,700, and Diggs is hoping for a sold-out event.
Winans is helping him reach that goal with promotions airing on radio and in an ad in which she says, "Hello, Baltimore. Come out and celebrate with me."
"We are expecting our audience will come from across the state," said Valarie Taylor, who has assisted Diggs since event planning began in December.
The volunteers are somewhat surprised that they landed a true recording star, but, as they discovered, all they had to do was ask.
"We let her people know why we were doing this and she got behind it," Taylor said.
Winans will be a hard act to follow, but Forerunners will make a valiant attempt on Sunday with the parade that includes marching bands, politicians, floats, boats, firetrucks and antique cars.
County Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, who represents the area, will serve as grand marshal in the parade that features more than 25 entries. The participants, which include two members of Congress and local officials, will walk, march or ride along the 1.5-mile route along Joppa Farm Road in Joppatowne.
"The inspiration for all this is to bring the community together and get people more involved," Guthrie said. "Havre de Grace and Bel Air have done this every year, but we are not a municipality and have had nothing of this scale. We have put everything together with volunteers and now we have something of this magnitude. It's our first event and we are learning to take big steps forward."
As it has for several years, the Harford County library system has built a float that promotes its summer reading program. It will participate in this parade and three others next month. The float promises to be a bit buggy, given the library program's theme, "Catch the Reading Bug."
"There will be lots of all kinds of bugs, but mostly reading bugs," said Carrie Comes, graphic artist and occasional float builder for the library system, as she brushed bright lime paint on the framework.
Tales, the library's canine mascot, will be along for the ride - waving from a canoe on the trailer - as will readers carrying butterfly nets filled with books covering entomological topics.
The Coast Guard will have a boat in tow. The South Harford Rotary is keeping its float theme under wraps until parade day.
During pre-parade hours, organizers have called for prayer. Diggs, deacon at Fountain of Life Church on Pulaski Highway, has invited area congregations to join an 11 a.m. ecumenical service at the grandstand area.
"There has been so much negative, we wanted something positive that would bring residents together and bring hope out into our communities," said Diggs. "We also wanted a Christian spin from our churches."
It is another way for Edgewood to show that "there are great things out there and great churches out there, too," he said.
Taylor said: "Forget about denominations. This is just another way for us all to come together as brothers and sisters."
Diggs hopes the celebration will bridge the gaps between generations and races. Taylor promised this year's celebration is only the beginning of a long tradition and "definitely not a one-time thing."
She also hopes it will be a "door-opener to future events," adding that she is coordinating several youth-oriented seminars in the next few months.
"This has been a lot of work, but so much fun to plan," she said. "It will all be worth it, too."
Concert tickets are $37.50 in advance and $45 at the door, available at several churches and Christian bookstores. Information: 866-926-3921. The parade begins at 2 p.m.