New Hope Baptist Church’s beloved “Back in the Day” Black History Month celebration returned for its twelfth year this past month. Held on February 9 and 23, this was the first year since the pandemic that the celebration has been in-person. This year’s theme was “EDUCATE, LIBERATE, ACTIVATE: Empowering the NOW Generation with a New Call To Action.”
The program’s grand finale night (Feb. 23) opened with a powerful demonstration from the Young Men of S.W.A.G. (Studying Word and God), who are under the leadership of Brother Milton Stafford, from New Hope. They held up various protest signs, including “Protect Our Vote”, “No Vote, No Voice”, and “I Am the Future”, that urged the practice of voting and the importance of having the right to vote.
In addition to performances from the New Hope family, including its mass choir, praise dancers, and orchestra, over the two nights of celebration, the finale brought forth a spectacular showing from The Jubilee Singers from Hinds Community College Utica Branch which is directed by Harry Watson.
One of New Hope’s youngest members, Casey G. Wilson – a 1st grade student from New Hope Christian School who is also the daughter of Tougaloo College Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Social Justice Dr. Daphne Chamberlain – introduced the guest speaker and personified the theme for this year with her poise and reading skills. Marquise Hunt, who is a fresh graduate from Tougaloo College, has dedicated his life to advocating for Black people and social justice issues across the nation. A social justice activist and community organizer, Hunt is known for his motivating and passionate speeches.
Hunt started his speech by rousing the crowd with a call and response freedom song – “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.” He explained that the Memphis sanitation workers sang this song during the 1968 strike that garnered the attention of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders. It became an unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement and its lyrics signify a steadfast commitment and determination to achieve one’s goals “by any means necessary.”
Therefore, Hunt posed the question to the audience, “How far are we willing to go” for the ideas of freedom, justice, and liberation? He referenced King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and how 60 years ago, Black people were fighting for those ideas because they were dissatisfied with issues such as police brutality, Jim Crow laws, housing inequality, and inaccessible healthcare. And in Mississippi, specifically, King referenced the struggle for Blacks to gain the right just to register to vote.
Hunt concluded that “Mississippi still swelters with the heat of injustice and oppression and has yet to be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.” He noted that the climate of Mississippi is reflective of its capital city – Jackson. He relayed that there are still laws being passed that deny legislation, deny power, to its Black citizens.
Ultimately, the answer to his question is for the Black community to be “consciously, socially, and communally aware about the issues that are happening and plaguing our communities.” He alluded to moving past just the ideas of freedom, justice, and liberation and creating pathways so they can truly be tangible in the present and future. Voting, he said, still moves the wheel of justice a tiny bit forward if it is done consistently over time. But what is also equally, or maybe even more important, is to be informed about those who are on the ballot, whether the candidates reflect the Black community in skintone or not. Finally, he declared that he is willing to go as far as “until the wheels fall off” to achieve these goals.
Lanier High School JROTC
The program concluded with a small awards ceremony. Both the guest speaker, Marquise Hunt, and the musical guest, Harry Watson and The Jubilee Singers, were presented with awards for their prolific showing during the program. The Obadiah and Elizabeth Myles Humanitarian Award was presented to Derek Starling Jr. who is a Junior honor roll student at St. Joseph Catholic School and is a member of the school’s varsity basketball and tennis teams. He is an active member of New Hope, serving as a junior usher and greeter. He was presented the award by the Myles family.
Sgt. Jerry Pope, who is the commander for the Lanier High School JROTC; Ruthie Johnson, who accepted the award for Ashley Jenkins and the New Hope Praise Dancers; Ahyana Banks, Destiny Cage, Nadia Harper, Avery Johnson, Laura Nelson, Calese White, and Anna Martin received certificates for their participation in the program.
New Hope’s Black History Committee plans its celebration by reflecting and paying homage to the past, awareness of the present, and preparation for the future. It would come as no surprise if they were already planning for next year, and the previous years’ standard looks towards excellence.