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"A day to remember" for "another generation"

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By Brian Garner

Each year the annual Old Zion AME Zion Reunion Revival settles on a focus that becomes the theme for that year’s event. This year, the focus was indicated by this passage from Joel 1:3: ‘Tell your children about it, Let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.’

Messages to the young people in the congregation and the “family church” of St. Paul Halsellville Baptist Church and messages from those young people, made up the majority of the event.

The message weren’t of the ‘you better listen’ or ‘what’s wrong with you kids these days?’ but more uplifting and of the ‘honor the sacrifices of those who have gone before you, that got you where you are’ variety.

Young people of the congregation, Jai-Breyonah Heath and Martivas Kimble, gave the Old Testament and New Testament readings.

Echoing the theme of the occasion, Deacon Eumon Chisholm Jr. said in his homecoming prayer, “We stand here one more time under this shelter on this hill, Lord, the Old Zion Heritage Site. We stand on this site to teach the children and their children teach their children. Lord as the legacy goes on, we pray that You have mercy on us.”

Continuing with the theme of promoting the youth, the choir group from St. Paul composed of the younger members of the congregation, The Shield of Faith, next provided a selection for the service. They sang “I Know My Redeemer Lives” in their own style, a little different from the hymn choirs, a little more lyrical, but still with the roots in the same Gospel traditions.

Old Zion St. Paul Halsellville Cemetery Association (OZSPHCA) President James “Jimmy” Wright said in his welcome speech, “This is a time, not only do we celebrate our heritage, but it’s a learning experience for us. We learn to appreciate. And one of the things we learn, if we look back in life to those who had it more difficult that we can dream of, it will lessen our fear of going forward. Don’t discount the tools that our ancestors have left for us. No matter what challenges, no matter what difficulties (and this especially for the younger generation) because they’ll be looking to us to deal with whatever difficulties we may experience today,” Wright said.

St. Paul Halsellville Baptist Church member Ahmad Alexander then stepped to the podium for “A New Generation’s Reflections.”

A baptized member of St. Paul Halsellville Baptist Church, Ahmad said he is a fifth, possibly even a sixth generation of his family who were members of Old Zion.

“I’ve been taught that the church has always been the root of the black family. So as I’ve watched my cousins, Ms. Yvonne (Cook Davis), my cousin Jimmy Wright and Jannie Price-Woods, just to name a few, restore and keep this site, it is reconfirming how important it is to reflect and remember the people and the places that gave birth to this, my generation.

“I believe that by remembering this site and remembering the loved ones that have passed on, that ensures the roots of the black family stay in the church,” he said.

“Look around – there are five, maybe even six generations represented here. Some of us don’t even know each other and some of us have never met. But we all share one thing in common: Old Zion. In a way this committee is keeping Old Zion’s doors open to all.

“This church has always been a place of refuge for wayward souls. I’m glad that someone took the time out to teach me these things. This is a day of celebration and a day of education. In years to come, my prayers are to join our eighth, tenth, even twelfth generation as we continue to pay homage to the past generations and to this great site, still known in our hearts and in our roots, as Old Zion.”

In his remarks to the congregation, speaker State Sen. Mike Fanning also spoke of the importance of teaching the young people about their past.

He started by reciting the nursery rhyme “Hey, Diddle Diddle” and pointed out that even though no one knows what it means, we still taught it to our children and learned it from our parents, who learned it from their parents.

“We are teaching the future generations total nonsense. And I don’t know about you, but we’ve got enough nonsense going on in the world today. We live in a state that hasn’t fully funded education eight times in 40 years. We thought in 2008 that racism was dead; we’ve learned that with the rebirth of racism that we’ve still got some nonsense in this world today,” he said.

He said the students he taught world history to didn’t have to know names, dates and places, but he focused on cause and effect, teaching them that “it took something to get somewhere…they needed to know that history repeats itself, and if we don’t learn from the mistakes in our past, we’ll be doomed to make the same mistakes in our future…we need to learn whose shoulders we now stand upon, so that the next time our kids are told they need to vote, they need to know who died for that right to vote,” he said.

If our kids don’t know about their heritage, we’re the ones to blame, Fanning said.

“We are the ones teaching our kids nonsense and not celebrating the heritage that has made them who they are today. When we say we expect great things from them, the reason we expect great things from them is because their grandparents did great things. Their uncles and aunts did great things. Their church did great things. The children in their church 75 years ago did amazing things, but they need to hear that and not “Hey, Diddle Diddle.”

“As your Senator, but also as a history teacher, I am proud we are standing here today, literally, on the shoulders of those who built what we now live in and how we worship today,” he said.

He said the OZSPHCA has done a great job, and when the people say ‘we only know “Hey, Diddle Diddle,” we don’t know what to teach our children,’ what the OZSPHCA has done is established a record of everything from who was buried in the church’s first cemetery on Going Road, to who is buried on the current Old Zion site.

“This structure crumbled in the 1980s, but it was the vision of the Association who said ‘if our kids drive past this site and see nothing but briars and brambles, it’s impossible for them to remember what their great-granddaddy taught them. But by clearing the land, finding the foundation of not only this church, we are literally able to stand on that history that has been preserved,” Fanning said.

He closed by challenging the congregation. “We can say we’ll gather again on the ninth anniversary, but if we want more and more kids…to be a part of the ninth, tenth and twelfth reunions (as Ahamad shared with us) that each of you replace “Hey, Diddle Diddle” by sharing the story of your family and how your kids got to be who they are, but also sharing the story of our family,” he said.

St. Paul Pastor John Heath continued the idea of “tell your children” and drove it home in his sermon.

“This is a day to remember…you need to remember this day, because the Bible tells us to tell your children. Tell them what? Tell them that the same God that said I Am, is the same God today. The same God who knew Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the same God that rules and reigns today…it’s important that we tell our children about how God worked in our past to help our forefathers that we may see the righteousness of today.

“Our forefathers did not get to see what we see today, but we see that because of their prayers, because of their faith, we see a better day before us. This is a day to remember…every one of us at some point reached a turning point in our lives and realized we needed the Lord on our side. We need to tell our children that same story,” Pastor Heath said.