The Lion Tamers, an Opelika social group dedicated to helping improve the community, will host its annual Family Fun Day at the end of July and are dedicating it to help spread the message of peace in an attempt to stop violence.
This year’s Family Fun Day was originally scheduled for Saturday but was pushed back to July 31 with the hopes that more people have time to get vaccinated.
Wilbert Payne, a Lion Tamer and coordinator of the Family Fun Day event, said the event was themed “Stop the Violence, Save Our Children” in order to combat growing violent incidents in the city over the past few years.
“In the community some years ago, I’d hear and see on TV a lot of black people of younger ages were shooting other young kids, and I said, ‘Something’s got to be done about that,’” Payne said. “If we don’t stop this violence, there’s going to be a generation of young black kids that’s going to be missing if we don’t do something to try and derail this.”
The completely free event will feature inflatables for kids, swimming at the Covington Recreation Center pool and a cookout. As well as fun for the family, Family Fun Day will put on a “Gospel Explosion” of music and speakers to decry violent action. Free health screenings will also be offered.
The Lion Tamers formed in 1946 when a group of black veterans came home from World War II and wanted to better their communities.
After trying to join the Lion’s Club and being turned away due to it being an all-white organization at the time, the group decided to adopt the name “Lion Tamers” and began meeting in the Charles Black’s garage.
“During the time after World War II, some black men with great character in nature got together and wanted to do something,” Payne said.
Payne and others are continuing their mission.
“We want to impact our neighborhoods, and there are a lot of people here who want this violence to stop,” Payne said. “They’re scared to come outside at night in certain neighborhoods. … We think we can impact them by putting on the [event] and having different speakers come up out there and talk to them and hoping we can reach them. I understand we can’t reach them all, but we’re gonna give it a try.”
Payne said this year will mark the 30th Family Fun Day the Lion Tamers have put on, though the local social and civic club has been around for a lot longer than that.
Payne himself joined the Lion Tamers in 1976 and has coordinated every Family Fun Day since the annual event began, and while the civic club has typically consisted of between 15-30 members, Payne said they are always looking for new men ready to join and help better their community.
“What it provides me is a way to reach out to the young people,” Payne said. “To help the young people with all the stuff that’s going on today by setting an example. They need somebody to look to, and as a group, we try to set up role models to look to for leadership in a positive way to keep going.”