Black celebration focuses on fixing families

Published 4:14 pm Monday, September 2, 2013

Speakers at the reborn Black Family Celebration in Walter Ward Park Saturday offered a variety of explanations for “How Did We Come To This? How Do We Fix It?”

Most boiled down to getting away from the teachings of parents and of church, forgetting to remember those who went before and not accepting personal responsibility for choices.

Bishop James Atterberry, a 35-year pastor and Benton Harbor NAACP president, speaking on strengthening families, said, “I’ve been married 41 years. I got married at 18, right out of school. I went one way and she went another and our marriage was falling apart. When she gave her life to the Lord, that drew me into the church and we began to walk together with God at a very early age. Families need to be valued. Let marriage be honorable. It’s an institution God established. Everything comes from family. If we don’t have good families, we have a messed-up society.

“Marriage is bigger than the people in it,” Atterberry continued. “God wanted from me as a man to be a father to my children, to show them someone loves them, cares and is there for them. Our life is more important than us sitting around holding hands. It’s about making sure our children are taught, led and guided. If you really love your family, you’ll stay together. Our society is in trouble because we don’t value family. We’re trying to please ourselves: ‘I deserve to be happy.’ Real happiness is you learning to serve and do what God wants. I’m serving my generation by being an example to my children. My son is an officer in Berrien County, my other son works for Child Protective Services and my daughter is a missionary living in California. Children killing each other and on drugs and alcohol, a lot stems from the family. If the family was in good shape, we wouldn’t need so many police officers or our prisons being overcrowded. African American people make up 20 percent of this country and half of the prison population. There’s something wrong with that picture. We’ve fallen away from family values, like eating together. When you love your family, you’re going to love each other. A lot of kids are angry and bitter because that’s the way it is at home. If you put love in the home you won’t see violence in the community.”

Rev. Kevin Mitchell, 52, pastor of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, said, “We’ve come to this point because we no longer want to do what our parents used to do. I’ve known my wife for 41 years and been with her for 27 years. I’ve got one son. I spent 10 days in jail because I sold some marijuana and cocaine. I left Dowagiac and went out in the world. I thought I was grown at 19. When they laid handcuffs on me and put me in the Houston County Jail, I prayed. We’re in this fix because we don’t know God anymore. I grew up with Him, but I strayed. I never sold another drug. No white man makes you sell drugs. You do that on your own. I’ve been a contractor for 12 years because God showed me how to be a man. We’ve got males who want to make babies and leave. They’re not ‘shorties,’ they’re your children. When you honor God, He’ll honor you. Our communities are messed up because we want to blame everyone else. You wouldn’t have a girlfriend if you saw her three times a year. You don’t know Him — and He doesn’t know you. There isn’t but one way to fix it — the old path. Going back to church, not for show, but to know Him. You’re either with Him or against Him. I’ve been bad, but I changed my life. Quit blaming cops. It’s their job to be in your business. Parents need to start being parents. My momma raised five kids by herself. Stop taking aid. I’d rather cut grass or shovel snow than take aid. Stop babying yourselves.”

Niles’ National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) branch and I’m Saving Myself served up three sets of speakers along with a picnic barbecue, a basketball tournament organized by Paul Williams, Christian rapper Re-Birth, from Holland and Benton Harbor, a choir led by Bonita Mitchell and featuring Deborah Brookins of Niles and her daughters, Asiah and Maya.

Hundreds attended, from 3-week-old babies to an 81-year-old, from as far away as Georgia.

Rev. Tracy Roddy, pastor of New Life Faith Baptist Church, strayed from God and became a drug dealer and a “liar and a manipulator who played games with the hearts of women. I lived a life contrary to the will of God. I’m sorry for problems I caused and young people I led the wrong way. I made them believe selling drugs was a life of promise. The truth of the matter is Jesus is the way and we’ve all sinned. If you want to fix it, you’ve got to find yourself in a place of repentance. God wants you to stand up and take care of your families. Tomorrow’s not promised to any of us. Truth is, growing up I had a bad omen about church. I was made to go as a kid. When I got there I saw a whole bunch of stuff that didn’t look like Christ. It made me angry and bitter as a kid. I thank God He helped me see it is my choice to accept Him. Every one of us is responsible for our own choices.”

Rev. Jerri Porter, just back from her Detroit conference reassigning her to a fourth year at Conner-Mayo AME Church, emphasized “we forgot to remember all those who have gone before us. We’ve lost our focus. We’re no longer looking at the cross where Jesus died for us, but who’s in the pew. God placed us here to travel together and to house each other. We’re all mutts anyway. Check out your tree on and look in the mirror before you’re prejudiced. We forgot to pray, march and give God glory without ceasing and to remember it’s ‘we’ not ‘me.’ Our assignment is to love each other.”

Rev. Eugene Staples, pastor of Second Baptist Church, said, “When we try to make a difference, we don’t do it collectively. We have a responsibility to others, and we need people, priests and politicians working together. Too often we point fingers at what others aren’t doing. We have to speak truth to power, humble ourselves and be united.”

Elder Tracey Hatcher, Peace Temple Church of God in Christ, said, “If you train children the way they should go, not the way they want to heartache and sorrow, they may not go straight, but the word of God will always be there. I myself went astray, but because I knew my Father, I knew how to get back home. These little kids will cuss you out because they’re not getting any home training to respect authority. If we don’t get their minds focused on the right things, we’re going to lose a generation. We’ve got babies raising babies.”

Black Family Celebration, which took place annually in the 1990s, also heard from Mayor Donald Lyons, County Commissioner Clark Cobb, state Rep. Matt Lori of Constantine and Public Safety Director Steve Grinnewald, accompanied by Deputy Police Chief Jarrid Bradford.

Grinnewald was promoted this summer when Tom Atkinson retired after 16 years and joined Southwestern Michigan College.

“Material things are fun,” Cobb said, “but human touch — one person to talk to — is the greatest reward of all. Life has no purpose without one another. It’s people here with us who give life meaning. Life’s short. Something like this is special.”