Greater Mt. Zion’s Black History Celebration

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Cross & Anvil Human Services kicked off their yearly Heritage Lecture Series with a Black History Month program at Greater Mt. Zion AME Feb. 11.

Rev. Clarence Williams stressed that his congregation celebrates African-American history all year long and the February celebration is just one of the many cultural events that are highlighted.

Last year’s keynote speaker was so spirited and thought-provoking, Chairperson Orlando Pizana and the black history committee secured education activist and noted scholar Dr. Yohuru Williams, Ph.D. once again.

Before Dr. Williams kicked off the three-day event with his electrifying lecture on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., another Dr. Williams was honored.

Dr. Tonjua Williams, who made history last year for being the first black person and the first woman president of St. Petersburg College was honored for overcoming obstacles, becoming a success in life and reaching back to help others follow in her footsteps.

“Talking about overcoming obstacles, overcoming paradigms that were preformed opinions of what somebody ought to be, what they can achieve, she had to overcome all of that,” said Rev. Williams.

Wiping tears from her eyes, Dr. Tonjua Williams said that there is nothing better than being blessed by family.

“Over the years there have been at least 100 of you in my life who have scolded me, told my mama what I was doing, told my grandmother what I was up to. You stood in the gap for me. You stood up for me.”

The late Adele Jemison was also honored her role in the fight to close the achievement gap in Pinellas County Schools between black children and their white counterparts.

The family of the late Adele Jemison

The family of the late Adele Jemison

Rev. Williams was a new pastor at Greater Mt. Zion when Jemison approached him for help with the egregious acts being committed in the school system concerning African-American children.

That same day, Rev. Williams, Jemison, Vryle Davis, Dr. Goliath Davis and a host of other people formed Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students, which “allowed us to have a basis to fight the school board to close the achievement gap all because of one lady’s tireless efforts to make a difference in education,” said Rev. Williams.

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Tired of the masses being fixated on Dr. King’s “I have a dream speech,” Dr. Yohuru Williams went deeper into his writings, showing how they may be more relevant now than when he wrote them.

“I get tired of people reducing him to the ‘I have a dream’ speech. You reduce the power to a paraphrase and when we do that, we take one of the most radical figures of the 20th century and we take away from the strength of what he was compelling us to do.”

Williams pointed out that in his 1967 speech at the Riverside Church, Dr. King said that we have to undergo a revolution of values in our own community. We as a nation, he said, must undergo a radical revolution of values.

“See radical means uncomfortable. Nobody will tell you that radical hurts. If it was comfortable anybody would do it. And you can’t expect people who are in a position of comfort to suggest any remedy that in and of itself is radical.”

Concluding with Dr. King’s final interview published in “Playboy” magazine in 1969 after his death, he mentioned how when Dr. King spoke about the black revolution, he had expanded to the whole world, not just in the United States.

He knew that there was no conversation about struggles in the United States without understanding that there were peonage, outright slavery, racial economic inequality on the continent of Africa, in Latin America and the Caribbean. Dr. King even included people of all races who were suffering from the same inequality.

Dr. Williams said we can’t play this game of talking about our African-American revolution, the “black revolution,” he said, is much more than a struggle for the rights of Americans. It is forcing America to face all of her interrelated flaws, poverty, militarism and materialism.

He encourages all to stop reducing Dr. King’s body of work to one speech and read and strive to understand his words “because he has a message for us that speaks across time.”

The three-day Heritage Lecture Series sponsors included Duke Energy, St. Petersburg College and Pinellas County Schools

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