The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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February 21, 2011

Heart of God Ministries celebrates black history with ‘The Journey to Now’

BECKLEY — During Heart of God Ministries’ Sunday Celebration of Black History, “The Journey to Now,” a program of music, gospel and speeches honored black ancestors who have fought for freedom since the first slave ship arrived in Jamestown, Va.

Guest speakers Judge Booker T. and Gloria M. Stephens, of McDowell, both sought to motivate young students to embrace black history while pursuing their education and aspirations.

“Not only are we to know our history as adults,” said Mrs. Stephens, “we have the responsibility to teach it to our children. Not just in February, but every month.”

She said that remembering and recognizing ancestors “lifts our spirits and tells us what we are capable of.”

Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., she said, “We must always guard against the danger of becoming ashamed of ourselves and our past. There is much in our heritage that each of us can be proud of ... Rejection of heritage, or lack of knowledge, means loss of cultural roots. People who have no past have no future.”

Mrs. Stephens drew a parallel between physical slavery and mental slavery, saying there is still a fight to “free our minds.”

She touched upon several landmark and historical African-Americans including J.R. Clifford, W.Va.’s first black attorney; Garrett A. Morgan, inventor of the gas mask and traffic safety light; and Madam C.J. Walker, inventor of the first line of hair care products for women of color and the first black millionaire.

Judge Stephens traced the path of African-American history, from slavery to President Barack Obama’s election.

He said, “Every one of use today stands on the shoulders of someone who came before.”

He noted that all African-Americans should feel like they have a stake in this county, as “African-Americans have fought in every war, back to the Revolutionary War, and have bled and died for our county.”

Judge Stephens recalled, as a student in the segregated high school Excelsior, in War, W.Va., that he benefited greatly from extremely dedicated and qualified teachers who told him, “You have to be two times better than the next man.”

He urged the younger generation to get involved in the community and to vote, telling them that “there were people hung and lynched so that you have a right to vote,” but ultimately assured them that “the best is yet to come.”

Judge Stephens attended West Virginia State College and earned a doctorate from the Howard University School of Law. He became the cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund from 1974-1984.

He has served two terms in the West Virginia Legislature as a member of the House of Delegates and was appointed by Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely to serve with a panel on the W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals to hear a case the Supreme Court disqualified itself from hearing. This made him the first black judge from W.Va. to sit on the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Gloria Stephens attended West Virginia State College and West Virginia University College of Law.

She was a family court judge in McDowell and Mercer counties for a decade and currently practices private law.

Guest singer Doris Fields, also known as Lady D, sang Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” and Thomas Dorsey’s iconic “Precious Lord.”

Lady D is a professional vocalist and West Virginia native.

In 2008, her original song “Go Higher” was chosen to be performed at the Obama for Chance Inaugural Ball in 2009.

She currently performs in a one-woman show, “The Lady and the Empress,” a musical about the life and music of blues legend Bessie Smith.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com

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