As the Kergyma Community Choir began to sway from side to side, so did the rest of City Hall. When the choir clapped, so did the audience. When the singers opened their mouths, those watching could not help but harmonize.
The Kergyma Community Choir kicked off the aldermanic Black and Hispanic Caucus’s second annual Black History Program Friday night by performing “Jesus I Won’t Forget” with co-director Arnold Johnson at the helm. The choir once again made good on the Greek translation of its name: the proclamation of the gospel.
“God gave us a message; God gave us a way to deliver our message,” said Johnson.
Johnson explained that it takes at least three hours of rehearsal a week to make music like what the group performed Friday night, music that has taken the choir as far as Detroit and led to the upcoming release of its second project, The Proclamation, in April. Still, Johnson does not forget: “We should always know where we came from.”
Hence: Black History Month.
The choir itself already has a history: Johnson, of Immanuel Baptist Church, founded it back in 2001 with Gwendolyn Busch (whose day job is at City Hall) of Bethel AME Zion. Since then it has drawn singers of faith from congregations throughout town and performed throughout the country, sharing stages with the likes of gospel legend Shirley Caesar.
Once the choir’s final note stopped reverberating through the rafters Baub Bidon took to the floor with spoken word poetry, followed by Burundi Rhythm, a family of African refugees performing a dance from their homeland. Three girls in colorful wrap skirts and a small boy doing back-flips in jeans moved to the music during their first performance ever.
In the middle of unbridled celebration, the keynote speaker, Rodney Cohen, echoed the choir’s song, calling attendees to pursue an understanding of their roots. Cohen pointed towards Lil Wayne’s recent rap derision of Emmett Till, a young man brutally beaten, shot, and drowned in the in the Tallahatchie River in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman.
Condemning such “self-imposed buffoonery,” Cohen warned, “the people of Sumer died because they lost their history … I encourage you not to stop fighting.”
Beaver Hills Alderwoman Claudette Robinson-Thorpe (at left in photo), who chairs the Black and Hispanic Caucus, worked for over a month along with Dixwell Alderwoman Jeanette Morrison (at right) to bring together the 28 performers for Friday’s night’s event in City Hall.
The two-and-a-half hour program ended with one more song from the Kergyma Community Choir and then, in an upstairs meeting room, a meal of fried chicken, corn bread casserole, and mac and cheese, and string beans from Cast Iron Soul—one more taste of black history.