Annual celebration to honor African-American leaders

Louise Weeks (left) with Pastor Michael Page at last year's Antioch Baptist Church African-American History Month celebration. Weeks has been attending the celebration since its inception. (Photo courtesy of Pastor Michael Page)


 

Beautiful music, elegant poetry, expressive dance and a delicious soul food feast — that’s what attendees can expect at Antioch Baptist Church’s annual African-American History Month celebration on February 26 at 4 p.m.

The event is at Antioch Baptist Church, 1415 Holloway St., and is open to everyone according to Antioch’s pastor, the Rev. Michael D. Page.

Pastor Michael Page pins honoree Ervin Hester, the first African-American news anchor in Durham, during the 2016 African-American History Month celebration. (Photo courtesy of Pastor Michael Page)

Pastor Michael Page pins honoree Ervin Hester at last year’s African-American History Month celebration. Hester was the first African-American news anchor in Durham. (Photo courtesy of Pastor Michael Page)

He said the celebration is meant to show reverence for the advancements of African-Americans.

“It’s a time to reflect, a time to appreciate our culture and a time to give thanks for where we are right now in this modern-day society,” Page said.

He said the celebration’s music will include both old slave songs and contemporary music to show the transition from historical times to the new generation. North Carolina Central University’s Worship and Praise Inspirational Mass Choir (WPI) will perform.

Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Hymn Choir from Charlotte will also perform as part of the celebration.

“They sing from the depths of their souls according to the old historical slave songs,” Page said.

The music will be accompanied by an expressive dance group made up of youth from the church.

“They really bring to the table a new wave of music,” Page said. “They help people connect with this newer generation.”

Those who attend Antioch’s celebration will surely not go hungry, says Page.

“The soul food dinner ranges from every kind of dish we could possibly think of that we shared as a family growing up,” Page said. “We want to make people feel at home and part of a community. It’s a joyful feast.”

Louise Weeks, a member of Antioch’s congregation, said she’s been attending the celebration practically every year since its inception.

“It’s just wonderful!” Weeks said. “They started the celebration to honor African-Americans in our community, some of whom never had any public recognition. I think it’s a blessing, and it’s been well-attended, and I commend him and his church for doing it every year.”

Weeks said her favorite part of the celebration is the acknowledgement of the honorees, African-American community leaders in Durham and North Carolina, and seeing how grateful they are to be recognized.

“For me, just seeing them honored is a blessing because I’ve been active in this community for over 50 years,” Weeks said. “Just to be a part of that and celebrate with them is a blessing for me, and I’m so happy for them.”

Page said the honorees are pioneers who have worked hard to make a difference and have their voices heard.

“They made significant contributions to society and they should be noted for that,” he said. “A lot of them had to be daredevils.”

Among the honorees this February are Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, the first African-American female police chief in Durham and H.M. “Mickey” Michaux, Jr., the longest serving African-American member of the North Carolina General Assembly for Durham.

Gazing toward photos on his office wall of Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela and other black leaders, Page said the purpose of African-American History Month is to identify with yourself, recognize who you are and realize why you should have pride in yourself.

“When you take pride in your heritage, you take pride in yourself and your environment and everything that you do is being done with quality,” Page said. “We want to help people move to a different place in their lives.”

Joseph Jordan, Director of The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History at UNC-Chapel Hill, said African-American History Month began as a single day celebration that wasn’t broadly recognized. Then it turned into a week.

“As you get to the 1960s era, people began to determine a week was not nearly long enough a period to rediscover, to talk about and to plan programs to celebrate and highlight the accomplishments of African-Americans,” Jordan said. “The important thing to remember is that this was not supposed to be an exclusive period for the celebration, but more like a birthday where you highlight, create and prepare material that can be used throughout the year.”

Jordan said African-American History Month helps undo the notion that African-American history can only be understood in the context of their engagement with white Americans. He said African-Americans have their own history that must be known, and a month-long celebration creates an opportunity to shine a light on that history.

“It allows voices that normally would not be heard to be heard,” Jordan said. “It allows us to highlight stories that have never been covered. There’s never, in my opinion, a downside to looking at and looking for other sides of the story.”

Antioch’s African-American History Month celebration is not Page’s only effort to enlighten all, especially young people, about Black History Month and how to be involved. His bible studies throughout February will focus on early African-American history and theology.

“Black history is not told enough,” Page said. “February is not enough time to tell the story, but we have this one month. Black history should be celebrated every single month.”

Weeks said she hopes more people will attend the celebration and recognize the importance of African-American History Month.

“It means everything to me because I remember when we only had one day to celebrate our culture,” Weeks said. “Now, there’s an entire month, and I’m glad. It makes other people recognize that African-Americans have contributed so much to our country and that we should be recognized the entire year.”

From left to right: Dr. Charles Johnson, the first African-American faculty member at Duke Medicine, Frank Brown, Pastor Michael Page and James Speed, former president of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company gather for last year's celebration. (Photo courtesy of Pastor Michael Page)

From left to right: Dr. Charles Johnson, the first African-American faculty member at Duke Medicine; Frank Brown; Pastor Michael Page; and James Speed, former president of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company gather for last year’s celebration. (Photo courtesy of Pastor Michael Page)

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Alexis Allston of Wendell is a sophomore at UNC-CH majoring in journalism, women's studies and creative writing. She is serving as co-editor of the Durham VOICE.


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