2015 Emancipation Proclamation Service

BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Commemorating the 152nd anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, worshipers from various denominations gathered last Thurs., Jan. 1 at Greater Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church, located at 1045 16th St. S. And as always, the service is an inspirational way to kick off the New Year.

Members of the community acknowledged those who have contributed in the past to making St. Petersburg a better place to live, especially for African Americans. In the wake of Ferguson and New York where protests and demonstrations are still ongoing, the beginning of a new year brings hopes of change and renewal.

A message of sober reflection was on the mind of House Representative Darryl Rouson as he spoke to those gathered about what he coined “spiritual intoxication,” getting wrapped up with the message of God, and what 2015 should bring.

“We are here today to reflect and to be challenged in this new year to give more, do more, be better and show that freedom is not free,” preached Rouson who acknowledged that even though the Emancipation Proclamation was a political decision and didn’t free everyone, it did give hope to others that one day they too would see freedom from slavery.

As the choir and church stood up and sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the poetry of emerging from a gloomy past and marching on until victory is won never rang more true or closer to home.

Pastor Clarence Williams of the Greater Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church spoke words of encouragement to those in attendance, while cautioning African Americans to be mindful along their journey for change.

“Any time you have an opportunity to shape public policy, [you should],” said Williams speaking to the many public officials present and stating that at times it can be dangerous, but it is always, “very, very important.”

Williams chose Psalm 46:10 to anchor his sermon, which states, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

“I wrestled with this,” Williams said, “because it almost seems irresponsible that in the midst of Ferguson, Staten Island, voter suppression, the have nots and the haves and the gap that lies between them getting wider and America moving more toward the darkness,  we keep quiet?”

But the pastor believes that quiet reflection and contemplation is a proactive approach to change. That stopping and being still while God intervenes is the next logical step in advancing the rights and treatment of blacks in America.

“They should not be fearful, nor fretful and impatient,” says the scripture, “or restless and tumultuous, but be quiet and easy…and live in an assured expectation of the appearance of divine Providence…”

Niaya White, a student at Calvary Christian High School, read an excerpt of the Emancipation Proclamation and was praised for her local contributions by school board member Rene Flowers.

“We’re always talking about involving the youth in our community,” said Flowers who is also White’s aunt. “She is an example of what the press doesn’t put in the paper.”

And when she spoke briefly to those awaiting the reading, it was evident what Flowers meant. “I want the community to know in spite of some of the things that we see happening in our community, our God is a good God,” Flowers said. “There is nothing he cannot do, so if we stand in agreement and we have faith, he will see us through whatever it is we are going through.”

On September 22, 1862, the Proclamation was issued by the President Abraham Lincoln and on the first day of January 1863, all persons held as slaves in the rebellious states were considered free. It is a document that changed the position of the Civil War, paved the way to the 13th Amendment adopted in 1865, which officially abolished slavery in the United States, and began the long process of equality in America.

But Williams had a few words to say about today’s equality. “The haves still have and the have nots, still have not,” he said. But mostly he continued his sermon focusing more on the daily activities that are tearing families apart, distancing neighbors and slowly breaking down the efforts of the past to bring about a more cohesive society.

“Our lives are consumed with these gadgets that do nothing but distract us,” Williams said calling our love of tablets, video games and phones a device addiction. “Put it down, be still, silent, find some solitude and eat [together]!”

If more people would take the time to be with each other again, Williams feels that the animosity that brews between not only different races, but also those within our own communities would be abolished.

“There are too many of us that open our mouths just to talk,” he said. “We say unhealthy things and we have unhealthy thoughts which turn into noise.”

His advice? When someone sends you an email, don’t respond right away. If someone sparks a nerve with their comments or actions, don’t retaliate. And when you are the aggressor and want to bring the other person down, Williams said to just walk away.

“You need to hold your peace,” he said. “You don’t need to say or do anything.”

As the program came to a close, participants and the general public was encouraged to head on back to Greater Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church on the Jan. 18 for a Day of Service Martin Luther King Memorial program featuring University of South Florida professor and former freedom rider Dr. Raymond Arsenault. The program will take place at 4 p.m. and is free to the public.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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