PARKERSBURG - Through the fight for equality, African-Americans have always had faith in a greater power that gave them faith and the courage to carry on over many years of hardship, a local minister said Sunday.
Minister Lisa Grays, of Zion Baptist Church in Parkersburg, was the featured speaker for the Black History Celebration held at the church. Over 50 people came Sunday as her discussion remembered the past of their people while celebrating their future.
"The people that walk in darkness have seen a great light," Grays said, quoting Isaiah Chapter 9 - Verse 2 of the Bible.
Photo by Brett Dunlap
Minister Lisa Grays of Zion Baptist Church in Parkersburg was the featured speaker Sunday for Zion Baptist’s annual Black History Celebration
"They have dwelled in the land of the shadow of death.
"Upon them hath the light shined."
Grays spoke about how God had brought them all a long way from the days in Africa when people were rounded up, kept in captivity and shipped overseas to a life of slavery, through the efforts of many to free those slaves through the Underground Railroad, to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s to the challenges still faced today.
"Look where God has brought us from," she said. "God has brought us from a mighty far way.
"As a matter of fact, he brought us all the way. If it was not for God being on our side, where would we be?"
Grays said it was important for people to remember who they are, where they come from, where they are and where they are going.
She spoke of the work of Harriet Tubman, acknowledged as The Conductor of the Underground Railroad in the 19th Century, and a faith in God that led her to help so many people escape slavery.
"She was born into slavery... and beat by many masters, but she decided enough was enough," Grays said. "She not only got out of slavery, she went back and got many who were in slavery and brought them to freedom."
Grays spoke about how important it is for people to remember others and to help bring them forward through their own accomplishments.
"Don't forget to reach back and get those who need to come into freedom," she said.
Sunday's program also included a number of music selections featuring the Voices of Triumph Gospel Choir, which hosted the event, the Zion Baptist Choir, the Youth of Logan Memorial United Methodist Church, DeAudra and DeAunna Daniels and David Grays and Melvin Stubbs.
Over 20 million people were taken from their homes in Africa to become slaves. Due to terrible conditions where they were kept, many died and only around 10 million were actually put on the boats to be taken over to America. However, the boats were no better as people were packed in tight with poor sanitary conditions. If they made it, they were sold into a hard life of forced servitude, full of hardship and suffering.
Only a faith in God helped the people endure through it and through all that followed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, including segregation and violence to the fight to change things through lunch counter sit-ins, Freedom Rides, legal challenges and marches.
"Where would we be without God on our side," Grays asked.
She credited Martin Luther King Jr., a man of God who used the teachings of God and Jesus Christ, to become the leader of the Civil Rights movement.
"He was the bridge to where we are now," she said.
Many paved the way in sports, entertainment and other fields so African-Americans could thrive in present-day America.
"It took a God in Heaven to get us where we are today," Grays said. "It is going to take a God in Heaven to carry us further on.
"We are the people of God. It doesn't matter what color you are. God doesn't see the color, he sees the heart."
In addition to Sunday's program in Parkersburg, the 16th Annual Black History Month Program and Lunch was held Saturday at Rockland United Methodist Church. The event was sponsored by Whitman Chapel AME Church.
Over 100 people from around the area attended Saturday's event, which had the theme "Rooted in the Past and Growing Toward the Future," said organizer Portia Daniels.
The featured speaker was the Rev. Melvin Wilson Jr., who was appointed in November as pastor for Whitman AME. The event also featured Searius Addishin, a spoken word poet from Columbus.
Wilson asked people if they are truly free and spoke about freedom in terms of spirituality while Addishin was able to take words suggested by those in attendance and make a meaningful poem, Daniels said.
"The program dealt with what diversity means to everyone," Daniels said. "Also, we have to remember our past as it is important for us to move forward."
In a final program celebrating the last two months, West Virginia University at Parkersburg and DuPont Washington Works will co-present a special program to celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at 6:30 p.m. today in the WVU-P College Activities Center.
The program is called "A Legacy of Peace" and was originally scheduled for Jan. 27 in connection with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but inclement weather in January caused it to be rescheduled. The event is free and open to the public. The keynote speaker, David M. Fryson, WVU's chief diversity officer, will discuss "The Right Kind of Peace."