By Tanya Terry
On Sunday Jan. 26, four churches and one organization were awarded for their outstanding work in literacy and the arts by Tracee Glab, curator of collections and exhibitions at the Flint Institute of Arts. The awards followed a performance by Flint’s first poet laureate, Semaj Brown. The four churches honored were Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, Grace Cathedral Community Church, Bethel United Methodist Church and Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church.
Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church features a program called Reading with Pastor Read. It is for grades K-12.
“But we’re really trying to combat the third grade literacy problem. So, every Monday night we have a reading program,” said Rev. Ralphael Read of Mt. Carmel.
The program is for both special needs children and other children.
“We also do poetry nights and jazz /poetry nights.”
This is intended to help youth continue to get their education in the arts.
As a result, Read said they have seen reading levels go up three to four levels.
“By continuing to come to the program, they’re starting to have a joy and passion reading. We hope that the program continues to grow so we can do more. We’re going to try to get more partnerships so we can continue our program on a much wider level,” he said.
Grace Cathedral Community Church has had Fri-yaas, for which kids learn to draw their favorite cartoon characters with a local artist. Kids learn what’s going on in the community and also practice their skills in art, writing and dance.
“It’s hosted on Friday nights. It’s for kids during the summer months to give them something good to do to keep them out of trouble and keep their minds occupied, as well as teach them literacy,” said Andrea Richards, the pastor’s wife and acting youth pastor at Grace Cathedral.
Pastor Kelly Richards creates an atmosphere for the members to work with the youth in a variety of ways to improve their early literacy skills and literacy skills. The church likes to take the kids out of the city, even outside of the state. To go, they must read a book and must work together to write a report on it. Nobody at the church is on salary. They have been doing this for 16 years. Richards is a full time librarian in Muskegon.
“Right now the biggest issue in Michigan is the young people being prepared and ready for third grade. If they’re not, the pathway to prison is wide open for him. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and come up with more ideas and ways to assist people and help them have a better quality of life,” Richards said.
The church also wants to expand its drama team.
For approximately the last three years, Bethel United Methodist Church has had is Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School. Students in the school get training in math, science and literacy. It runs for six weeks during the summer. The church also has an afterschool tutoring program.
“We’re a church of educators. So, education is important to us. We are always looking for young people. Every year, we make sure we canvas our neighborhood to see who we can introduce to programs at Bethel,” said Janice Harden, 100-year anniversary chair for Bethel United Methodist Church.
For 20 years, Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church has hosted and sponsored summer youth enrichment program which enhances the reading and math skills of the youth. This program includes field trips and exploratory activities to increase the intellectual field of students.
Mt. Olive also entered into collaboration with the YMCA after school programming Power Scholars to eliminate the summer academic slide. The Power Scholars initiative resulted in an average of a two-month gain in reading and math. Mostly recently, New Evolution Educational Center (NEEC), hosted a CDL Freedom School summer, 2019. A portion of the Mott Warsh Collection is exhibited and rotated in the church. Curator and educational director of Mott Warsh Collection is Stephanie James.
“We’re going to continue to listen to the community and do things with them, not to them. It’s a collaborative effort. We will continue to look for opportunities to serve. Lastly, we feel Mt. Olive is a place where growth happens,” said Moses Binghmam, youth pastor at Mt. Olive, where Jevon Catlett is the pastor.
The Pierians Inc., Flint Chapter were also awarded. The organization has a strong history in literacy and the arts. Starting in around 1990, when the organization was chartered, the Pierians were very active in the community-giving scholarships to young people, including to some studying music or those interested in art.
“We also initiated and helped organize Jacob Lawrence’s exhibit at the Flint Institute of Arts.
The FIA was the main sponsor and the Pierian Chapter co-sponsored by giving money towards this. One of our members owns original art by Jacob Lawrence. So, she was able to contact him and get him to come to our chapter,” said Nelda Hebert, membership chair for the Pierians.
The Pierians were also active at Sloan Museum. They had an exhibit there for the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board, which the Pierians sponsored. In 2013, the Flint Public Library and the Pierians sponsored upcoming and established artists within our community, starting with local artist Chris Watson-then Lavarne Ross in 2014, internationally known artist from Flint. Broadside Lotus Press; the oldest continuously publishing African American press was displayed in 2016 during their 50th anniversary. The Pierians have also been involved with the Boys and Girls Club of Flint. Youth were able to tell how the water crisis affected them in Project Water Us. The project looked at how protests are presented in various eras. Art in the Churches was facilitated by the Pierians, as well as the This is Us.
“The Pierian Chapter proposed the position for the first poet laureate here in Flint. Through this, we will be instrumental in the community, helping with literacy improvements. Another goal is to continue to work with all types of young artists, recognized or not. We want people to know we are here. We’re interested in the art. We’re interested in you. We want to expose others to this community and everything in this area. I think in the future we’re going to try to make a point to let our youth know to go to Whiting and know they are art themselves; very worthy,” Hebert said.