Rev. Kenny Irby, senior pastor of historic Bethel AME Church, brought to the altar both mentors and mentees to pray for their dreams, aspirations and ambitions.
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – The Lay Organization of historic Bethel AME—the oldest church in the city—held their 14th annual Men of Vision worship experience Jan. 20, where a mosaic of men’s ministry and youth groups were present to celebrate what’s right in our city, and to take to heart Proverbs 29:18: Where there is no vision, the people perish.
“All of the messaging about where black boys are and what black men aren’t doing, have been shot up today,” exclaimed Rev. Kenny Irby, senior pastor.
Among the many in attendance was Pinellas County Schools’ Minority Achievement Officer
Lewis Brinson, Ed.D., Major Matt McKinney from the St. Pete Police Department, representatives from Men in the Making, Cohorts of Champions and various PanHellenic organizations.
Rev. Irby brought young men from the age of 8-18 to the altar to pray for their dreams, aspirations and ambitions.
“Dr. King had a dream that one day you all would be able to come to the altar and pursue the vision that God has placed in you without concern for oppression and suppression,” said Rev. Irby on the eve of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday.
The service consisted of both young and seasoned men sharing their vision on life and the impact of their faith, beliefs and experiences have had on them and the “village” as a whole.
“We acknowledged that it takes a whole village to raise and support a child and its people. We honor organizations, fraternal and civic, that extoll the virtues of the village and seeking an impact on the community and the lives of young men,” said Willie Felton, program chairperson.
Joshua Hughes, 15, a high school student at St. Pete Catholic, gave a powerful message on persevering through oppression. At such a young age, he, unfortunately, had too many experiences with being judged, misunderstood and treated unfairly because of his skin color.
As a seventh grader, his teacher had an issue with him reading a book by Malcolm X during a time slotted for personal reading. If his teacher had not been so closed minded, she would have known that Malcolm X encouraged black people, especially black males, to read.
Hughes quoted Malcolm X saying, “People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.”
Fortunately, his current English teacher is intentional about diversity and exposes the students to a variety of experiences and literature.
“I have been able to succeed and persevere because I have a vision and support,” Joshua said, giving concern for other black and brown students who do not have support from their family, church or mentoring programs. “Some of them give up and drop out.”
As the only black member of his lacrosse team, he has experience verbal and physical overt racism. He said officials have thrown flags at him and not the other players, has been harassed by opposing teams and told that he should play football because “ni***rs don’t play lacrosse.”
“No matter how hard evil and hate try to silence me and break my spirit, I’m not going anywhere. One day I will be recognized by my talents and not my skin color.”
Joshua credits Men in the Making mentorship program for exposing him to programs such as Anytown Camp where they cultivate inclusive leaders to change communities through dialogue and cross-cultural interactions.
“Men in the Making have provided opportunities for me to overcome adversity, find my voice again and be a part of the solution,” he said.
Michael Clarke from Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and the Kappa League challenged all of the Greek organizations present to “continue your efforts, continue to grow with the idea that as we grow, our young men will grow and they will be successful.”
Clayton Brody, a senior at Admiral Farragut Academy and member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.’s
Project Alpha, was on hand to speak about the many blessing that God has given him. He said the program brought together young men from different backgrounds “and made us a brotherhood.”
Clayton said their mentioning the trip to Washington, D.C., was a great bonding and learning experience.
“They taught us things that I will use for the rest of my life that some of us would not have ever learned until we had to do what they taught us,” said Brody.
Seasoned youth pastor at Crossover Church in Tampa Wallace Phaire, II said mentoring children is a calling from God, but you must have your life in order to hear God’s voice.
Phaire, II is a veteran of the army and has more than 20 years’ experience as a violence prevention counselor. He was there representing Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.
The Men of Vision service was made possible by P.H. Wright, Lolita Brown, Willie Felton and others in Bethel AME Church’s Lay Organization.