March 10, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – “Good and gracious God, we are grateful for this space for remembering stories of Black and African American members throughout our history that have shaped and informed our lives as the community of Adrian. Now help us to recognize that Black history is all of our histories. … We pray and acknowledge where our community has fallen short of where we are called to be inclusive and diverse in community.”
That opening prayer by Pastor April Gutierrez, chaplain at Adrian College, captured the spirit and intent of the annual Together We Stand Black History Community Celebration, held at Christ Temple Church in Adrian on February 23, 2020, the last Sunday of Black History Month.
Together We Stand gave Lenawee County Christians from a variety of denominations and people of good will a special opportunity to gather and honor the contributions of African Americans of the past and of the present – and to inspire one another to continue efforts to appreciate other cultures and to work together for unity.
Among those in attendance were seven Adrian Dominican Sisters: Jamie Phelps, OP, Kathleen Nolan, OP, Suzanne Schreiber, OP, Sharon Weber, OP, Joan Baustian, OP, Maurine Barzantni, OP, and Barbara Kelley, OP.
“Let us honor those whose shoulders we stand on today,” said Jeanette Henagan, President of the Lenawee County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP. “And let us continue our learning about each other’s heritages and understand and acknowledge each other for all of the contributions that have been made here in this country.”
The Together We Stand celebration received proclamations affirming Black History Month and the Lenawee County celebration of the African American heritage from Angela Sword-Heath, Mayor of Adrian, and State Senator Dale Zorn, who offered a proclamation from the State Senate and from the State House of Representatives on behalf of Rep. Bronna Kahle.
Members of Christ Temple Ministries International Youth, under the direction of Minister Liz Turgeon, gave brief presentations on the lives and contributions of Rosa Parks, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Harriet Tubman. Other community members spoke on what they had learned about the accomplishments of specific African Americans in the past.
Lenawee County Sheriff Troy Bevier lifted up the work of Bass Reeves (1838-1910), the first Black U.S. deputy Marshal to serve west of the Mississippi River. “It was phenomenal…to see a law man who really pioneered the way for all of us, and it was amazing – 3,000 arrests he made,” Sheriff Bevier said.
Vincent Emrick, Adrian Chief of Police, gave a presentation on Charles Jackson French, a mess officer on the U.S.S. Gregory in 1942. While positioned near Guadalcanal, The Gregory was attacked by a group of Japanese warships and began to sink. Mr. French tied a rope around his waist and swam for two to six hours, pulling 25 sailors in a life raft to the safety of their allies in Guadalcanal. “If he hadn’t, the raft would have drifted right toward the warships and they all would have been taken prisoner,” Chief Emrick said.
Kevin Grayer, Chief of Police of Raisin Township, spoke of his own experience as an African American and the message he received when, after his service in the Marine Corps, he returned to the area to serve in the police department. “I just heard this all the time: ‘You’re not going to do it. You’re not going to make it,’” he recalled. He encouraged the young members of the community not to listen to those messages. “I don’t care where you go, what state, what country. People are going to have a perception about you, what you can, what you can’t do,” Chief Grayer said. “You have to know within your heart what you want to do and what you’re going to do and how you’re going to achieve it. … Take the [road] less traveled. Make your own path. Make your own place.”
The celebration also included the presentation of community service certificates to two women from the community. Kasey Merillat-White and her husband recovered from drug addiction and went on to become involved in service to the Lenawee County community. Kasey became a Realtor and, with her association with the reality business and the NAACP, led her real estate agency and the Real Estate Council to work toward greater diversity.
Minister Eugenia McClain, a member of the Together We Stand Committee, was recognized for her faithful service in Lenawee County through the years. “She may be in the background, but she stands tall among the people in this community,” said Pastor Andre’a Benard of Christ Temple Ministries. “We say thank you for your service and dedication to our Lenawee community.”
Pastor Andre’a also paid tribute to members of the assembly: civic officials, Human Relations Commissioners, pastors, leaders, church members, and Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Interspersed with the words of inspiration, challenge, and appreciation were moments of musical performances and dances in praise of God as the community celebrated the sense of unity in the community. The praise sessions were led by Bethel AME Church [Adrian] Singers and the Christ Temple Ministries International Praising Angels.
The celebration concluded with the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – and the challenge to those in the assembly to memorize the words of this Black National Anthem by the 2021 Together We Stand celebration.
Feature photo (top): Members of the Christ Temple Ministries International Praising Angels perform a dance of praise during the Black History Month celebration, Together We Stand.
Adrian Dominican Sisters Joan Baustian, OP, left, and Jamie Phelps, OP, admire a display of African-American heritage in the hall of Christ Temple Church.