03/04/09 — Students discuss black citizenship in America

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Students discuss black citizenship in America

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on March 4, 2009 1:46 PM

Two young scholars were honored Thursday night at the STOP The Funeral Initiative's first annual Black History Month oratorical contest at the Eastern Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Goldsboro.

Patrick Edwards, 16, of North Lenoir High School won first place in the competition with his presentation, "The Quest for African-American Citizenship in The Americas."

"What is the difference between average citizenship, and African-American citizenship right here in our country? Is there a difference? Indeed there is," Edwards said in his speech. "African-Americans, unlike any other nationality in America, were the first group of people to have to gain their citizenship through legal action."

Edwards' speech emphasized the need for social justice, and discussed the story of the Jena Six -- the six black high school students from Louisiana who faced up to 100 years in prison without parole for assaulting a white student in 2006.

A year later, when three white students assaulted a black student in a similar way, Edwards continued, they were sentenced to community service, anger management and peer counseling.

"Suddenly, the incident was regarded with the phrase 'boys will be boys,' unlike the Jena Six's 'throw them under the jail,'" he said. "Citizenship, in its best form, is treating everyone the same and not showing favoritism to any group. Our citizenship must be exercised fully, keeping true the phrase 'One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.'"

Percy L. Brooks, 16, of Spring Creek High School won second place with his speech, "A Quest for Black Citizens in America."

"I thank God for the late Dr. Martin Luther King, the late Rosa Parks, the late Carter G. Woodson and others," Brooks said. "Now, our president, Mr. Barack Obama. But there is a need for more productive black Americans."

Brooks' speech called for an emphasis of personal responsibility and accountability.

"I choose to stand in righteousness, get an education that's been made possible for me," he said. "I won't steal what's not mine and hope not to ever take a life that I didn't give. We can be a people of loyalty and selflessness."

Brooks addressed his peers in the crowd, challenging others to combat negative statistics through their own dedication.

"Black males don't have to make the jails their future home. Young ladies don't have to become unwed mothers and never fulfill their dreams, because they are better than that," he said.

The program was part of a series of local events sponsored by STOP the Funeral Initiative last week in celebration of the NAACP's centennial year.

Pastor Nora Grantham of Foundation of Love Ministries led the opening prayer. Rev. Valerie J. Melvin founder of V.I.E. Ministries, introduced judges Terri Dortch, Eastern Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. John Forbes, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church and Evangelist Alton Thompson of the Goldsboro/Raleigh Assembly.

Music for the evening was provided by Julius Witherspoon, 15, twin sisters Alycia and Felycia Witherspoon, 13, Christa Witherspoon, 12 and Shekinah Witherspoon, 11 of the group Purposed by Design. The family ensemble performed both classic and contemporary hymns. Adrienne Townsend-Greene of Greenleaf Christian Church presented a dramatic portrayal of the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and civil rights activist.

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, gave closing remarks and the benediction.

"This is a beginning night, and we don't know where we'll end up," he said. "Our goal is to one day have numerous orators from the community."

The STOP the Funeral Initiative, a collaborative effort of Rebuilding Broken Places CDC, the Goldsboro/Wayne branch of the NAACP and the local faith community also held a black history celebration Friday at the Eastern Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. It featured A Drummer's World drumline, the Eastern Chapel Youth Choir and speaker the Rev. Dr. Madeline McClenny-Sadler, founder of the Exodus Foundation in Charlotte.