Congregations celebrate Black History Month with Gospel Extravaganza

Monday, March 1, 2010
From left, Geneva Allen, Lucille Daniels, and the Rev. Debbie Thornton perform Sunday with the St. James AME Chancel Choir during the Gospel Extravaganza Program at St. James AME Church in Cape Girardeau. (LAURA SIMON)

Through dance, scripture and gospel music, members of area congregations celebrated National Black History Month on Sunday at St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church, where they also paid tribute to notable black Americans.

Five choirs, one solo singer and one dancer were part of the Gospel Extravaganza organized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. City-Wide Planning Committee director Debra Mitchell-Braxton, who said the event was held in order to uplift spirits and keep the legacies of renowned black Americans alive.

"It's just a way to show the contributions of these individuals, which we should be doing throughout the year," Mitchell-Braxton said.

When gathering performers for the musical event, Mitchell-Braxton asked the choirs and individual singers to choose songs that would make an audience feel encouraged and motivated.

Gwen McGee, third to perform, said she chose to sing "Too Close to the Mirror" by Eddie Ruth Bradford, because the lyrics help refresh her memory that God sees the best in her and her life.

Robert Bailey, eighteen-month Delante Bailey, and Prophetess Margaret Owens sing the National Negro Anthem, "Lift every voice and sing" Sunday, February 28, 2010 during the Gospel Extravaganza at St. James AME Church. (LAURA SIMON)

"When you get weak, you fall away, but this song it kind of helps you hold on," she said. "God sees the things we can't see in ourselves."

NaTika Rowles, who majored in dance at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University), said she performed a praise dance as a way to uplift the youth in the audience. She enjoys sharing her talent with others as a way to demonstrate that one can worship God outside of church, in exciting ways.

Area youth choirs joined in energizing the the congregation toward the end of the program, performing songs about relying on and shining for God. The House of Prayer Envision Community Choir, whose members are aged 7 to 16, are instructed by the church's youth department and practice each Monday.

"I like to get our young folks involved, because they are our future," Mitchell-Braxton said.

Youth singers in the Envision Community Choir have been learning about black Americans all month, studying influential speakers and athletes, such as Michael Jordan, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. and George Washington Carver.

Betty Mosley, a member of House of Prayer who attended the Gospel Extravaganza, said the monthlong celebration is important because it gives children, who may not know a lot about their ancestors, a chance to learn more about their heritage.

"If we didn't celebrate Black History Month, it would just be washed over in the schools," Mosley said.

Mitchell-Braxton said she wanted to celebrate Black History Month with a musical event because gospel songs bring people together.

"Words are influential," she said. "Music just has a way of uplifting spirits. It's important even now, especially with our youth. It provides discipline to kids in bands or choirs."

St. James Church will host another memorial event in March 21, in honor of Women's History Month, paying tribute to the Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King.


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