Since its inception as an official national commemoration nearly half a century ago, African American History Month has become something many of us take for granted.
But if one candle is enough to keep a bonfire going, we happened to stumble upon a small, refreshingly sincere, and humbly very powerful program at the Lambert Church of God In Christ this past Sunday (Feb. 24).
Matchbox size, Lambert is located "two blocks up Park from Airways and then to the right" on Keating Street in Orange Mound.
For it's African American History Month Program, the church helped sponsor a 40th Anniversary Salute to the African American Police Association (AAPA). It turned out to be something truly special to witness, share in and even report about.
The only thing that could have made the program better would have been for stupidity rapper Lil' Wayne and others like him to have been there unarmed and alone to learn something from so many people who literally dedicated their lives to give young African Americans a fair chance at life.
Lil' Wayne's recent release denigrates civil rights martyr Emmett Till. Fortunately, the stories told at the program trump the negativity of such madness. Nearly every moment was a chilling, upbeat reminder of what African-American police officers had to overcome to gain their profession, and what the AAPA does now to extend its mission.
Led off by a performance from the Memphis Police Department's Peacemakers choral group, there were too many moments to highlight, but it would be wrong to skip a spontaneously funny moment in the midst of the keynote sermon by the Rev. Erick Nesby.
A member of the MPD's COPS Unit (Community Oriented Policing), Nesby's theme of "Grace and Mercy" was illustrated with offbeat observations of how spiritual beliefs often feed into police and civilian interaction.
"Often the first thing we hear when we pull someone over is for mercy," he quipped, "and it's grace when we let you get by without giving you a ticket."
Nesby's easy presentation style was peppered with a funny moment illustrating the down to earth, energetic tenor of the evening. It was rather warm in the church during the event and Nesby meshed a joke about it into his sermon, eliciting good-natured surprise from Senior Pastor Elder Charles Moore, who asked, "Was he checking me?"
Later, Moore continued the joke and brought the house down with his own admonishment along church lines.
"It is hot, but you know there's a place hotter than this don't you," he tweaked the crowd.
Criticize it as cliché if you will, but the warmth of the building compared little to the warmth of the hearts in the room.
Following a powerful vignette presented by the Young Actor's Guild and Harriet Jubilee Performers, we were later introduced to the group's founder Christi Chandler. We learned that the AAPA has supported the group for several years, growing talent that has gone on to Broadway and other major venues.
After informing us that Chandler had nearly succumbed to a major illness, Elder Moore called for a special donation on her behalf. People gave willingly, but the pretty, somewhat frail artist seemed to shy to receive it.
"Come on up here girl, we got you," Moore told her.
When presenting Community Service Award recipient Lt. Dwight Woods (ret.), AAPA President Chris Price recounted an effort to raise money for slain fellow officer Martoiya Lane, with $14,000 eventually raised to support her children.
And it was such a night.
One of the city's best known "American Idol" contestants, Gideon McKinney, sang a tribute to how the AAPA's "running man" – Tyrone Currie – mentored him from a painful childhood to playing stages all over the world.
The Whitehaven Wall Mart received a special commendation for its support of the AAPA's sports teams, several members were given individual contribution awards and all there were given a gift to hopefully inspire more community service.