On Monday, June 19th, I witnessed what may become a historical tradition for the DC African American community: The Second Annual Juneteenth Prayer Breakfast hosted by the Wards 7 and 8 Clergy and Faith Leaders, held at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church Panorama Room.
To say it was an enjoyable event just does not do it justice. It was a true community event, organized and planned by multiple east of the river community organizations.
I was among more than 200 people who came to enjoy this occasion, which might be described as “festive,” but was much more than that as well. The theme of the event, “Still Committed to the Fight”, was taken from the New Testament Bible scripture, I Corinthians 15:58:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Aspects of this theme unfolded as the program progressed with presentations by the assembled participants. There was the usual opening prayer and welcome, followed by an explanation of “the occasion” by two ministers with Texas roots: Rev. Dr. Kendrick Curry, Senior Pastor at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church; and Rev. Dr. Kip Banks, Senior Pastor of the East Washington Heights Baptist Church.
Both gave colorful, humorous and passionate delineations of the significance and necessity for having Juneteenth celebrations.
Then, there was the blessing of the food wonderfully prepared and served by Lamont Mitchell’s Imani Catering as the program got underway. The musical background was beautifully performed by Mr. Sam Perryman with accompaniment from St. John CME Church.
There were acknowledgements made by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-D), DC Attorney General Brian Schwalb, Sheila Bunn, Chief of Staff to Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray (D); Ward 7 and from Ward 8 Representative Trayon White, Sr. (D).
This was followed by scintillating poetry from poet and performance artist, Joezy and from four students from Friendship Public Charter School-Armstrong, including Khloe Jackson, Shaulla Motes, Noah Rolling and Naomi Kelly.
Poignant and evocative prayers were given by various Ward 7 and 8 ministers for fathers. Reverend Doctor Stephen Tucker prayed for mental health; Rev. Dr. Wanda Thompson; for community, family and health, Rev. Dr. Roger Mitchell; for youth, Brother Rahim Jenkins, for preserving Black History; Rev. Dr. Lewis T. Tait, Jr., for incarcerated residents. Minister Charles Grant prayed for returning citizens; and Rev. Wendy Hamilton, for DC Statehood.
The guest minister was introduced by Rev. Thomas L Brown, Director, Mayor’s Office of Religious Affairs and I must tell you that I was not prepared to be so deeply affected by his message as I was.
He was the Honorable Dr. Barry C. Black, Chaplain. U.S. Senate (the only African American to hold that position). He is a physically slight man, but one can see that he is a larger-than-life figure once he begins to convey his message. He began sharing his insight in a pleasantly modulated, but commanding voice. He did not preach in any kind of conventional way, but rather showed himself an arrestingly colorful and mesmerizing storyteller.
Black powerfully recounted the history of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Lincoln in l863 and its more than two-year journey before the words reached the Black residents Galveston, TX on June 19, 1865.
Growing up in segregated Houston, TX, I began learning about Juneteenth as soon as I started school, but it had never been made to be so exciting and monumental as rendered by Chaplain Black. He brought the totally rapt audience to its feet several times. His knowledge of politics and “standard of the times” was insightful and painted a much more complete and to-the-point picture than I’ve ever heard.
At the end of his powerful, eye-opening “story” I felt like I had just finished getting a well-modulated and calibrated classroom lesson. I am certain that his high-octane presentation will significantly move things forward in establishing this event as a future holiday fixture.
Michael Sainte-Andress is the Anacostia Coordinating Council’s Arts and Culture Ambassador.