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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Commemorating Juneteenth

On Monday, June 19th, I witnessed what may establish a historical tradition for the DC African American community.  It was the 2nd Annual Juneteenth Prayer Breakfast hosted by the Wards 7 & 8 Clergy and Faith Leaders.

It was 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 organized and planned by several east of the river community organizations.

I was among more than 200 people who came to enjoy this more than festive occasion.  The theme of the event, “Still Committed to the Fight,” was taken from the new testament bible scripture: I Corinthians 15:58.  Aspects of this theme unfolded as the program progressed. There was an opening prayer and welcome followed by an explanation of the occasion by two ministers with Texas roots:  Rev, Dr. Kendrick Curry, Pastor, The Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church and Rev, Dr. Kip Banks, Pastor, East Washington Heights Baptist Church.  They both gave colorful, humorous and passionate delineations of the significance and necessity for having Juneteenth celebrations.

There was the blessing of 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 and an accomplice from St. John CME Church.  There were acknowledgements made by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC Attorney General Brian Schwalb, Sheila Bunn, Chief of Staff, Vincent Gray, Councilmember, Ward 7 and Trayvon White, Councilmember, Ward 8.  This was followed by scintillating poetry from poet and performance artist, Joezy and four students from Friendship Public Charter School-Armstrong:  Khloe Jackson, Shaulla Motes, Noah Rolling and Naomi Kelly.

Poignant and evocative prayers were given by several ministers: for fathers, Rev, Dr, Stephen Tucker; 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 Tait, Jr.; for incarcerated residents & returning citizens, Minister Charles Grant and for DC Statehood, Rev. Wendy Hamilton.

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.

The Honorable Dr. Barry C. Black, Chaplain. U.S. Senate (the only African American to hold that position) began sharing his insights in a pleasantly modulated, but commanding voice.  He doesn’t preach in a conventional way, but rather is an arrestingly  colorful and mesmerizing storyteller.

He recounted the history of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Lincoln in l863 and its more than two-year journey reaching Galveston, TX on June 19, 1865.  Growing up in totally 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 the politics and “standard of the times” was insightful and painted a much more complete and to-the-point picture than I’ve ever heard.

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 Arts & Culture Critic.

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