Celebrating the Foundations of the Future: Florida Avenue Baptist Church’s 100-Year Anniversary

“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” –Isaiah 58:12

This week, the historic Florida Avenue Baptist Church of Washington, D.C. celebrates its centennial anniversary. During my summer stay in the District, I’ve had the privilege of visiting the church and being a part of the momentous occasion under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Earl Trent, Jr. Many institutions observe anniversaries, but very few can say they’ve been around for 100 years, especially those established by the hands, heads and hearts of African Americans.

FABC was founded approximately four decades after Reconstruction, a time of illicit racism and segregation all over the United States. Already facing the problem of the “color line” in addition to scores of other challenges, the faith of the founders and members allowed the holy institution to thrive in the midst of those trials.

The 1919 Red Summer gruesomely afflicted Blacks across the country, including the nation’s capital. An exorbitant number of Blacks were violently attacked and killed at the heels of arguably America’s bloodiest race riots circa post-World War I. Despite the riots and the youth of the newly founded establishment, FABC survived the unrest.

In the late 1960s, FABC would also survive the riots following Martin Luther King’s assassination. Some of the church’s congregants would faithfully serve and bravely fight in each of America’s conflicts overseas. Through all of the major events–positive and negative—in America’s history, FABC is still standing strong.

It’s a blessing to see three and four generations of families congregating the pews and completing the Lord’s work at FABC. Members rearing their children and their children’s children in the church teaches them to love Jesus and live righteous lives, but it also maintains the church’s rich legacy.

As the Rev. Jeremiah Wright noted when he delivered the centennial Sunday service message on July 8, African Americans are the only group of people that doesn’t document its history or revolution, which is detrimental to our livelihood.

“Failure to write down your revolution means it will die when we die.”

One of the key points Wright had for the FABC family was that people have to teach their history to the youth, because they don’t know it. This isn’t necessarily the church’s history, but Black history in general. Unfortunately, Black children learn distorted and destroyed history from their oppressor; HIStory instead of OUR story. In turn, this disempowers Black children and negatively affects their perceptions of themselves.

With teaching the youth our story, both the good and the bad must be taught. Wright calls this repentance. Despite our achievements, there are many things that we are ashamed of as a people. On many occasions, we’ve turned our backs on our African past, but we have to tell all sides of our story.

Most importantly, the 100-year anniversary is a moment of celebration. It’s a time for the church to rejoice at its wealthy history and the faith that has brought it this far as it optimistically looks toward the future.  The centennial also serves as a reminder that much work remains to be done, and more laborers are needed now more than ever to spread the Gospel and tackle the many issues facing Washington, D.C.’s Black community.

Congratulations to Florida Avenue Baptist Church on achieving 100 years of stewardship, evangelism, missions, social justice and education. You’ve come this far by faith feeling no ways tired. And with that steadfast faith, there’s no limit to where you can go. I wish you 100 more years of continued blessings and success.

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Who Will Continue the Race for Social and Civil Rights?

Last week, I read a USA Today column by DeWayne Wickham discussing the legendary Jesse Jackson’s plan to rally against black-on-black violence.  A major crusade, Wickham writes that Jackson plans to galvanize followers and march in 20 cities “hard hit by the gun violence that has made the streets of America a bigger killing field for young black men in the United States than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been for U.S. troops.”

I don’t know if the marches will be an effective solution or not, but Jackson is definitely tackling one of the more important issues devastating the Black community along with mass incarceration and unemployment. In another space, we can discuss tactics and strategies, but here it’s necessary to address leadership and participation.

As Wickham mentioned, Jackson turned 70 in October. While many individuals have been questioning the civil rights leader’s relevance, the writer of the column suggests that this may be Jackson’s “last big campaign.” For many, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Simply but respectfully affirmed, the man is old. He doesn’t have the energy and influence that he had in his heyday of his career.

But the question now shouldn’t be, “How do we expedite the process of getting Jesse out?” The questions we should be asking are, “Who will continue where Jesse Jackson left off?” and “How will we transfer his and his contemporaries’ leadership position to some new organizers?”

From a historical perspective, it was the young people transitioning into adulthood who were leading the Civil Rights Movement. They were Black men and women in college executing marches, freedom rides, rallies, sit-ins and voter registration drives.

With voter suppression laws, black-on-black carnage and mass incarceration, there is no time better than now to stir up and usher in a fresh group of young and energetic leaders. As a young man in college, I’m more than willing and able to take on the role, but I don’t have the training or the blueprint for action.

Although times have changed, the same social ills plaguing the Black community remain. Jackson’s relevance lies in taking under his wing, the 18-year-olds through the 30-somethings and teaching them the strategies that earned victories in the Black community. Combining those age-old tactics, education, new media and the youthful energy of the present, we may successfully exterminate black-on-black bloodshed.

It will take the cooperation of both the older and younger generations. The older generations must be willing to reach out to the younger generations and teach them how to organize. The younger generations must be willing to reject apathy and the diversions that distract us from the real issues. The youth must also be willing to sacrifice, which is the foundation of service and leadership. We must be willing to sacrifice status and prestige. We shouldn’t concern ourselves with appealing to a liberal, conservative or mainstream media’s agenda.

Jesse Jackson is one of last veterans still running the race for social and civil rights. Many of the men and women that were running with him have dropped out and have earned the right to do so. They either no longer have the energy and ability, or they are no longer with us.

For the leaders like Jackson and his contemporaries who are still with us, we should be waiting in the hand-off zone to receive the baton as they run their last 200 meters of this relay for human rights.

For the leaders like Jackson and his contemporaries who are still with us, we should be waiting in the hand-off zone to receive the baton as they run their last 200 meters of this relay for human rights. The livelihood and preservation of our Black communities and people depend on a new movement supported by the leaders of yesterday and spearheaded by the young leaders of today.

Watch the Throne: Closing the Black Male Generational Gaps

At a time when Black boys suffer from the conspiracy of their destruction, the guidance from the older generations of strong Black men is much needed. The disconnect between our young brothers (myself included) and the older brothers is most prevalent among African American males.

The generational disunion between Blacks was engrained in our psyches about 300 years ago by an ingenious slave trainer named Willie Lynch. Na’im Akbar writes about the systematical strategy to divide the slave community as a form of control in his highly important book Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery, and he mentions age as a primary detachment.

This isn’t the time to go in detail about our mental enslavement, but I do urge you to read Dr. Akbar’s book. Instead, this is a space to remind my brothers that we must challenge the “divide–and-conquer” strategy by closing the generational gaps. Accordingly, I commend the Rev. Tyrone P. Jones, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Guilford in Columbia, MD.

He attempted to bring this goal into fruition by organizing and uniting the male members and visitors of the church. The “100 Men in Black” Sunday brought Black men together in solidarity, and it was a call for the older brothers to close the generational gaps by teaching the younger brothers and preparing them for the future.

In his sermon Jones said, “Every man has the responsibility to pass on something worthwhile to that of a younger generation.” As men, we should heed this message to prepare the throne for our counterparts coming after us and to fulfill our purpose.

Every man has the responsibility to pass on something worthwhile to that of a younger generation.

No matter how effectively a man leads or performs his duties, he can’t and shouldn’t hold on to power forever. Eventually, he will have to give up the crown and the throne to someone else. In order for the next “king” to lead effectively, the incumbent man in power must prepare him effectively.

Additionally, knowledge and wisdom should be passed on to younger generations, because God commands it. As Jones proclaimed, “God is looking for your willingness to give to others.”

God is looking for your willingness to give to others.

With negative images in entertainment and news, Black boys need positive Black men doing positive things to be their role models and to be the images to emulate.  Although the younger generations should be watching the throne, these exemplar men have to reach out to boys and young men and show their genuine compassion and care. All young Black males, whether privileged or underserved, need positive, strong Black men to express their love and concern for their futures and wellbeing.

Just as men should reach out to the younger generations, boys should “watch the throne” by being willing to learn and to grow from the older men’s lessons. One day, they will be the men in charge. Without Black men at the heads of their communities with strong Black women beside them, (I didn’t forget about the sisters) we can’t advance, break the chains of psychological slavery deeply imbedded in our minds and fulfill the Creator’s will.

We have our age differences, but we can’t forget about the divisions among our peers. We must put aside our differences in how much money we make, where we live and what organizations we are members of. United, we make each other better men. I think of that classic collaboration of Ginuwine, R.L., Tyrese and Case where they sing: “What can a brother do for me? He can help me be the best man I can be.”