ST. PETERSBURG – The St. Petersburg Branch of the NAACP commemorated the 153rd anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation with a service on the first day of 2016. The community, along with local and state officials, gathered at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church to start the new year off with a celebration of freedom.
Sheila Scott Griffin was on dignitary watch and recognized Dr. Ricardo Davis, president of COQEBS, Rene Flowers, Pinellas County School Board member, Pinellas County Judge Patrice Moore, State Representative Darryl Rouson, Pinellas County Commissioner Kenneth Welch, State Representative Mike Dudley and Congressional Candidate Mark Bircher.
With every chance to celebrate the excellence of our youth, the programmed featured FAMU voice major and graduate of Gibbs High School, Maiya Stevenson, who astounded the audience with her operatic prowess when singing the Negro National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and Negro Spiritual “Motherless Child.”
Jai Hinson and the Dundu Dole West African Ballet showed the audience how they celebrate in West Africa with a celebratory dance and drum call and Gibbs High School student Jermaine Robinson, Jr. read an excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation.
Reverend Don A. Gaskin, senior pastor of New Philadelphia Community Church, gave the message of freedom.
“My mama and daddy told us…it was alright to be colored. Ain’t nothing wrong with you being a Negro,” he said, whose mother completed the eighth grade and father the third. “And this came from the wisdom not of a Ph.D. mama or a bachelor’s degree daddy, but it came from their celebration, there understanding of the freedom not from Lincoln but the freedom from God.
When the proclamation was signed, the Civil War had been raging on for three years. Rev. Gaskin reminded the audience that freeing the slaves was not a priority for Lincoln. In a letter to the editor of the New York Tribune, Lincoln wrote, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it.”
Rev. Gaskin contends that Lincoln was an instrument of God. “We are here because God divinely orchestrated all of that,” he stated.
He then turned his attention to the young people. He said the moral compass of today is broken.
“I can only say that because of that chef daddy and that maid mama, every one of the Gaskin children had a drug problem because on Sunday they drug us to church. On Christmas they drug us to Christmas practice. On Easter with our Easter clothes, they drug us to Easter practice,” he said as the audience burst out in laughter.
A message for the new president of the NAACP
“The greatest evidence of a transformed life and to show servant leadership is to stand for the truth,” said Rev. Gaskin to the newly elected President, Maria L. Scruggs, “because the people who will hate you for telling the truth are the people who’s been lying.”
He told his niece to remember her support structure and to remember the strong community leaders, many of them related to her, that built the foundation for freedom in St. Petersburg.
“Remember that every time you see the Enoch Davis Center, there was an uncle Enoch in your life,” he said. Enoch Davis would want you to know that freedom is going to cost you something.”
Scruggs closed out the service by thanking Pastor Rickey Houston for the use of his church and gave thanks to God for the “freedom to do, the freedom to act and the freedom to exercise the greatest gift that He’s given us—our faith.”