BELPRE - Members of Whitman Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Chapel celebrated Black History Month with their 15th annual luncheon on Saturday at Rockland United Methodist Church on Washington Boulevard.
About 150 people of all races and religions gathered in the church's meeting hall for music, prayer, food and a silent auction, said organizer Ray Simmons.
"We are here to celebrate black history and the many achievements we have made together in the past with the great things we can do in the future," Simmons said. "Everyone is working together to make this world a better place."
Ray Simmons, chairman of the Whitman Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church’s 15th annual Black History Luncheon, left, laughs with guest speaker C. Michael Gray before the luncheon on Saturday at Rockland United Methodist Church on Washington Boulevard in Belpre. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
The luncheon is a way for the community to celebrate Black History Month and teach people how important blacks have been throughout history.
"This luncheon gives us a chance to get together to reflect on our pasts, think about our present and look toward our future," Simmons said.
The event has typically been organized for the first weekend in March, but was moved to February two years ago in order to be included in the national Black History Month, according to the Rev. Debbie Marshall, pastor at Whitman Chapel.
"We are blessed to be able to celebrate Black History Month and look forward to sharing the history of what we have been through as a people and what those struggles have led us to today," Marshall said.
The keynote speaker of Saturday's event was C. Michael Gray, faculty member of the African American Studies Department and Associate Director of the African studies program through the Center for International Studies at Ohio University, was the main speaker.
Whitman AME Chapel member Carlita Lynch and Claudette McDonald performed songs of praise.
The AME Church was founded by the Rev. Richard Allen in Philadelphia in 1816 by the joining of several black Methodist congregations that wanted independence.
The annual Belpre event has grown and changed throughout its dozen years in existence, Marshall said.
The event, which lasted more than two hours, is the biggest fundraising event for the church. All proceeds from the luncheon go back to the church for projects such as the building of a fellowship hall.
"As our largest fundraiser, what we get here stays in and with the community," Marshall said.
The annual program is not just for black history, but for American history, she said.