Heritage Day 2017 at J.W. James AME Church
By Rev. Garry S. Mitchell, Sr., 4th Episcopal District
In the midst of headlines and news reports indicating the deaths of both young and the old due to violence in the City of Chicago, the need for a renewed sense of our heritage and history is vital if we are to be instruments of inspiration and change. With this thought in mind, the membership of the J.W. James African Methodist Episcopal Church (Maywood, Illinois) under the leadership of the Reverend Garry S. Mitchell, Sr. on February 23, 2017, masterfully implemented what will become a tradition in the local church: Heritage Day.
The goal was to gain a deeper understanding of our rich, diverse cultures and build community relationships through a worship and fellowship experience that would lead us all to know God in a better way. To gain a deeper understanding of the influence of the African Diaspora throughout the world, we focused in on our impact in America, Panama, Nigeria and Israel (Black presence in the Bible). The day began with 11 am worship with a focus on our history through song and Pastor Garry’s sermon which highlighted Benkos Bioho – a slave in Colombia who after several failed attempts of trying to secure his freedom not only succeeded but also brought his family and 36 others along with him! Following his betrayal and subsequent assassination, a monument was erected in one of the towns he founded depicting him as one who had broken the chains of slavery. Pastor Garry linked Bioho’s story to that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as he joyfully indicated that the enemy may kill the body, but our purpose and ministry live on. Just as Jesus’ resurrection indicated the end of our bondage to sin and death, we too can break the chains of oppression in our own lives and believe God to do the same for those around us.
After worship, we retired to our Mitchell/Jackson Faith Hall to enjoy cuisine from Panama, Israel, the United States and Nigeria while we heard inspiring words from Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Medical Director of the Cook County Juvenile Correctional Center of Chicago. Dr. Ezike shared with us the need for the entire community to reassume the role of being the “Village” that raises all children. She shared how the young people she serves are in great need of the love of God displayed by His people consistently. Dr. Ezike expressed the need for health awareness within our community by highlighting the effects of illicit drug use and the need to make good decisions in life. Her expression of genuine love and care left each person with a renewed sense of purpose and ministry within our respective communities.
People in attendance were able to interact with one another by collaborating to complete unique and engaging table activities with a black history focus. Laughter, joyful noise, and meaningful conversation were just some of the sounds heard during this one of a kind celebration. Times like these give us an opportunity of respite from the world while allowing time for the Word of God to settle within our hearts in unforgettable ways. As we observe the hand of God in the lives of our ancestors and those around us, we gain the impetus to face the world with a positive and healing spirit. May our lives reflect gratitude for God’s blessings and a deeper willingness to walk in His will and His way.