AME annual conference puts ‘First Things First’
Members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church gathered at the Hilton Hotel at 4200 City Avenue Wednesday for their 197th Philadelphia annual conference.
Worshipers filled the auditorium of the hotel for a day of celebration and song which also included messages from AME ministers throughout the region.
However, the historic conference was not only a chance for attendants to worship together and fellowship, but also a time of accountability, said conference organizers.
“This is the annual gathering of all of the churches that are in our conference with our bishop, to give account of our stewardship and to celebrate the goodness of God,” said the Rev. James Baker, of Morris Brown AME Church, host pastor for the conference.
“This is where we give an account of our ministries, the souls we saved, the ministry programs we’ve implemented; the way we served God’s people,” he explained.
Baker described the conference as an important moment in AME ministry in which the AME ministers get together with their colleagues from around the state.
James A. Nelson, a trustee for the Morris Brown AME Church, said it was a great experience to a part of such a great undertaking and that he was honored to be a part of it.
“This is a gathering of every church that comes under the umbrella of the African Methodist Episcopal Church,” said Nelson. “We gather this one time for a huge celebration in the Lord’s name, and it’s just a wonderful thing to be a part of.”
In the AME church, the trustees are given the responsibility for the care and the maintenance of the church and its grounds. Stewards are charged with the duty of seeing that those attending the church feel welcomed.
John W. Wilson, a steward from Morris Brown AME said he became a steward after suffering an illness. After being diagnosed with cancer, Wilson said he was undergoing an operation when a visiting minister took note of his perseverance through sickness and invited him to become a steward.
This was in 1994 and today Wilson is free of cancer and serving as a steward.
“To see people come together and believe in God the way we do is a blessing. The one thing about a conference is that we are all one Church; this is just a beautiful conference,” said Wilson.
Also present during the conference was the Rev. Mark K. Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME.
“We’ve been doing this since 1816, 1817,” said Tyler. During the conference, he said, ministers report their successes, struggles and challenges from the previous year.
“We come together and some time we weep together and sometime we rejoice together but it is a powerful moment in the life of African Methodism and it’s one of the features that make us distinct as AME.”
Those attending the conference were afforded an opportunity to have free blood pressure screenings from a nurse practitioner, blood glucose readings, receive nutritional snacks and energy drinks for those who were diabetic and in need of a quick snack to elevate their glucose levels.
There were also special offers from restaurants on City Avenue for those attending the conference. To successfully coordinate an event of this magnitude, the organizers began preparations a year in advance of the conference itself.
“The success of any event of this size is organization and planning. We begin planning late last year and we organized and everyone’s church was so cooperative,” said Wanda Ringgold, general chairperson of the annual conference.
“Mainly it’s the members of Morris Brown AME who have worked all the committees, did the annual conference journal, ordered flowers, tried to make everyone comfortable and we tried to think of the needs of the people attending the conference.”
The presiding bishop of the AME is Bishop Gregory Ingram who has served in this capacity for ten months and during the conference spoke to the attendants about this years conference theme “First Things First.”
“Our priorities are clear that the first must be the first in our service, stewardship, community admission outreach, church growth and witness,” said Ingram.
“It is our hope that this annual conference season will be inspirational and informative. Because you are a stakeholder, your full engagement and participation are necessary.”
Thankful. That’s not only the name of the church located 1608 West Allegheny Ave. in North Philadelphia, but also the attitude of its members who celebrated the 90th Anniversary and Annual Homecoming service on May 19.
During the homecoming service, members who have left the church return to minister to current members making the homecoming a time of reunification and celebration.
“Annual Homecoming Day was instituted by our late pastor, Rev. Harrison J. Trapp, who upon coming to Thankful, faced the monumental task of unifying a despairing people, a people divided in aim and interest,” read a history of the homecoming written by the church.
According to the history, the first homecoming service was held May 18, 1952, and is one of four annual services instituted by the church.
The Rev. Ivan B. Hewitt, pastor of Thankful Baptist, said that his predecessor, The Rev. Harrison J. Trapp and his wife, Edna Murphy Trapp, wanted to create some excitement in the church so they conceived of the four annual days, which the members of Thankful observe each year.
Other annual days are the joint anniversary, when all of the clubs and auxiliaries get together. Then there are the men’s day and women’s day services which focus on the issues of the two genders — and then there is Homecoming Day.
“We hope that we will be renewing old friendships and helping to create new ones,” said Hewitt.
“After the formation of the church, our folks have scattered for better things, better jobs, better homes, but we ask them to come back on Homecoming Day,” said Hewitt.
“The Homecoming sort of enhances the 90 years that we have been here at Thankful,” said Hewitt.
Hewitt is aided by his partner in life, Angie Hewitt, and together the two have led Thankful for 25 years. I think it’s because of Pastor Hewitt’s personality and the beautiful people here at Thankful. They have talent that they are just yearning to use, and that makes this day a beautiful day,” said Mrs. Hewitt when asked why she believed the church has had such longevity, the first lady said.
Blanche Belgrade has been a member of Thankful Baptist since 1977. At age 94, Belgrade still sings for the church choir.
“I came from Trinidad, and I saw the church, I came in and there was a choir singing and I said, ‘I want to sing in that choir,’” said Belgrade. Thirty-six years later, she’s still singing.
Belgrade said that others have gone and come but she has remained at the church.
A celebratory banquet will be held Friday, September 13, in honor of the church’s 90th anniversary. The guest speaker will be the Rev. Al Sharpton. Those interested in more information, or who wish to purchase tickets, are encouraged to contact the church secretary at (215) 229-5024.
Concerned students, educators and community organizers gathered at the Metropolitan Baptist Church at 35th and Baring in West Philadelphia to attend a panel discussion on the future of University High School.
University High School is slated to close its doors. It’s the result of the local School Reform Commission (SRC) deciding on cost-cutting measures for the School District of Philadelphia.
The panel, hosted by Philadelphia writer, Solomon Jones, and sponsored by Axis Philly, NBC-10 and other organizations, focused on the possible uses of the building should the school close.
Panelists for the forum included: Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Algernong Allen, entrepreneur; DeWayne Drummond, president of Mantua Civic Association; George Poulin, Powelton Village Civic Association; Allan Domb, president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors and Emily Dowdall, researcher for the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“We are going out into the community across the city and talking to them about what they want to happen with the school building that is closing in their community,” he said.
Jones noted it was the opinion of those on the panel that the community must have a say about the subsequent uses of school buildings that the SRC plan to close.
“We wanted to bring people together around this issue we hope that the energy that we have here in this room today will propel the community forward,” he said.
To ensure the community was truly represented, Jones made a concerted effort to reach out using social media and through various local organizations to ask who the leaders in the community were so that they could be represented at the forum.
“We were able to identify them and work through them to really talk to and talk through the people in the community,” Jones said.
The author also went to schools and talked to the teachers, who in turn informed their students about what was being done. The outreach efforts paid in attendance.
Nearly every seat in the church was filled with both adults and youth, who were not only students of University City High School, but surrounding schools as well.
Most of the students worked on the Urban Nutrition Initiative farm, which grows fresh organic fruits for local residents in a campaign to provide healthy food choices for nearby residents.
The farm, 13 years in operation, was dear to the hearts of the students who worked there and was the major focus of the students in attendance.
Jahnae Robinson, 17, attends George Washington High School and worked at University City Garden.
“It affects everybody,” said Robinson. “I don’t go to school there but I work there.”
“It’s good for the community and we’re helping others by helping ourselves,” said Shalisa Gilliard, 16, who attends the Philadelphia High School for Girls.
Gilliard said the University Garden represents 13 years of hard work of the students.
“It affects the community, not just the school,” she said.
Mika’al Broadus, 16, attends University City High School and stated the school should remain open because of many of the programs offered. He used the Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) classes as an example.
“We had that, it was actually its own academy, and we had to shut it down and rename it something else,” he said.
West Philadelphia residents turned out to attend a community day event hosted by Dynamite Pest Control held at Malcolm X Memorial Park, despite the gloomy weather conditions.
The park has long been a favorite in West Philadelphia for those desiring to host events to unite the community.
This event was no different as the staff of Dynamite and supporting sponsors provided food, entertainment and games for both the children and adults of the neighborhood for no other reason than to give back.
“We’ve been there for 45 years and we’re the longest running family-owned and operated business on 52nd street,” said Rich Foreman of Dynamite.
Foreman said he conducts numerous career fairs at schools where he speak to students about careers, including those who aren’t particularly planning to go to college but would like to be entrepreneurs.
The community event was another way for him to reach such youth as well as to express his appreciation and love for his West Philadelphia neighborhood.
“Having grown up in West Philadelphia, I decided to try to give them a sense of hope and to provide some resources,” Foremen said.
He attended Catholic school in the area and learned to swim at the YMCA in West Philadelphia.
Resources available at the park included: information tables, where youth could learn about college opportunities, and access to free phones.
“This is just my way of giving back and we are going to do this annually...,” Foreman said.
In his planning, Foreman reached out to other local businesses in West Philadelphia, including DJ Active, a local variety store.
While children enjoyed the moon bounces, playground, and music played by DJ Active, Foreman said it was also a networking opportunity for the adults.
To help make the day happen, Foreman invited elected officials such as Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Sen. Anthony Williams and others to attend.
Chief Deputy Commissioner Dennis Lee, of the City Commissioner’s office, was on hand to talk about the importance of voting.
“We are so excited, because this is part of what brings back the city and we need that to happen,” Lee said. “Civic engagement is what it is all about.”
The 52nd street corridor has made significant improvements in recent years, according to Gregorio Cojulun Jr. president of the Friends of Malcolm X Memorial Park.
It is Cojulun’s responsibility to orchestrate public events at the park and he swung into action when Dynamite Pest Control expressed their desire to hold a community day at the popular park.
“We have to save our future and we have a public place and a safe place for them to come out,” he said.
The park will continue its Jazz in the Park events May 30 from 7 to 9 p.m. Oldies in the Park events will begin on an undetermined date in July.
“We’re just trying to make it fun for everyone to come out here and have a good time,” Cojulun said.
The African People’s Education and Defense Fund (APEDF) and the Uhuru Movement hosted the annual flea market on Saturday at Clark Park in West Philadelphia to raise money for programs and services.
Despite cloudy weather, the market attracted people from across the city, looking for bargains, art, and music.
“Today is the second flea market of the year by the Uhuru flea market in Clark’s Park, which is an economic development project for the African People’s Education and Defense Fund,” Harris Daniels said.
According to Daniels, the APEDF is a non-profit organization with far reaching impact.
“It’s led by African people, benefiting African people inside the U.S. and around the world and its mission is to develop an institutionalized program to defend the human and civil rights of the African community,” Daniels said.
Residents of University City wait all year for the popular flea markets where they can purchase unique items.
This year, the flea market season began on April 20 with a health fair at the park, where visitors received information about health and nutrition, could participate in group exercises and instructions, and receive free health screenings.
“The Uhuru Health Fair was centered around health and economic development of the African community in particular, which we recognize in Philadelphia, just as it is around the world, bares the brunt of the economic crisis and really experiences the deepest conditions of poverty, police containment of the community, mass incarceration, and its health is affected by these conditions,” Harris said.
Harris said APEDF not only organized the flea markets to help fund economic development for its cause, but also operates a furniture store in Center City at 1220 Spruce St. and holds monthly meetings for its members, supporters and the community.
The flea markets also provide a place for merchants and consumers to meet.
“We, in the Uhuru Flea Market team, under the leadership of the APEDF are supporting their mission by organizing these flea markets, not only to bring the community together but to have a monthly venue for the African-American community, which has largely been pushed out of West Philly through the University City development and gentrification,” he said.
The Uhuru Flea Market is held each month at Clark Park. For more information about the African People’s Education and Defense Fund, call them at (727) 821-2437.