Memorial Church Service Celebrates Black History

Singing and dancing marked the start of Harvard’s ninth annual Black History Month service, held Sunday in Memorial Church.

The service, entitled “An Afternoon of Sermon and Song,” celebrated the midpoint of Black History Month. Dedicated to celebrating black history and culture, the month stems from “Negro History Week,” created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson ’12. Woodson was the second black to receive a doctorate from Harvard.

The main feature of the nearly two-hour long service was the sermon delivered by the Rev. Theodore Maynard ’00, the director of youth ministries at the Charles Street A.M.E. Church in Boston. Maynard based his message on the gospel story of a young girl whom Jesus raises from the dead.

Though the resurrection brought her back to life, Maynard said it left unsolved the problems of the living world. He compared that dilemma to the challenges faced by blacks throughout their history in America, who have found their answer in the strength of their community.

“If there is to be sustenance beyond salvation, it will be through [the black community]. You be each other’s sustenance,” Maynard said.

He said Harvard students in general could benefit from his message.

“Don’t give up. Don’t get jaded. Don’t allow this place to harden your heart,” Maynard said. “And spend lots of time with your friends.”

A recent graduate of Harvard College, Maynard sprinkled his sermon with jokes about Annenberg, anecdotes from his undergraduate years and impressions of the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Plummer professor of Christian morals and Pusey Minister in Memorial Church.

The Kuumba Singers and liturgical dancers and singers from the Boston church provided artistic entertainment.

Kuumba soloists Maleka I. Donaldson ’02, Melanie L. Forbes ’02 and Jason Hines of Harvard Law School brought the congregation to its feet. Not to be outsung, the Phyllis Davis Singers of Charles Street Church delivered gospel performances that left audience members waving their arms.

They also applauded the Boston church’s liturgical dancers, garbed in white robes and swaying to a praise spiritual.

The 200-person audience consisted mostly of Harvard students and Charles Street A.M.E. parishioners. University President Lawrence H. Summers was also in attendance, though he did not speak during the formal service.

Later Summers said he was pleased to support the celebration.

“Our history is everyone’s history. It was a ceremony that was both enlightening and moving,” Summers said.

The event is the brainchild of Gomes and Charles W. Gordon, a facilities services manager for the University, both members of the Association of Black Faculty, Administrators and Fellows. Gomes said they noticed that none of the celebratory components of Black History Month at Harvard was associated with a church, traditionally a strong force in black history.

Gomes said this service was a way to rectify the oversight.

“It is important to remember that fundamentally we are a worshipping people. Black History Month is not Black History Month without a worshipping aspect,” Gomes said. “It is very important for what we do and who we are.”

Maynard reiterated that the celebration of Black History Month in a church is symbolic of the powerful role that religion plays in the black community.

“Black people have never believed that they make it on their own,” Maynard said. “To celebrate the history of Black people is to thank God.”

The service was sponsored by the Association of Black Faculty, Administrators and Fellows, Memorial Church, the United Ministries and the Harvard Foundation for Race and Intercultural Relations.