People gathered Feb. 25 at Dwelling Place Church on Porter Street to celebrate the last official event of Black History Month.
At around 2:30 p.m. Feb. 25, the fourth annual City of Fayetteville Black History Month celebration commenced at Dwelling Place Church with members of the UA Inspirational Chorale and the UA Inspired Soul band leading an opening session of praise and worship. Inspirational Chorale members sang the Negro National Anthem shortly after.
Mayor Lioneld Jordan welcomed the crowd with some opening remarks, reminding attendees that despite any external or internal differences, “We are all one together in this city and country,” Jordan said.
“We believe that anything is possible through patience, perseverance and passion,” Jordan said. “No matter how many times they knock you down, keep getting up.”
Adding to the atmosphere of positivity in the church, Michael Wallace, the director of global culture and diversity and inclusion programs for Walmart, took the podium and presented his keynote speech, which focused on never losing sight of a dream, Wallace said.
“If you dream, dream big,” Wallace said. “Never lose sight of that. Tell somebody about your dream, even if they don’t want to listen. You get to put on shoes from the feet of your dreams and walk because of faith. Protect the progress. We are walking one day at a time.”
D’Andre Jones, a member of Compassion Fayetteville, expressed his gratitude to several people who contributed to organizing the program.
“February may be the official month to celebrate black history, but I’m celebrating everyday,” Jones said. “We are going to continue to transform Northwest Arkansas, impact the state and change the culture.”
Compassion Fayetteville is a volunteer group whose mission is to advocate compassion in the Fayetteville community to enhance the quality of life, according to the group’s website. Members of Compassion Fayetteville, along with the Northwest Arkansas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, organized Sunday’s event.
Giving a few words of encouragement, Todd Shields, dean of the UA J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, spoke about building unity in a divided world.
“If I suffer, you suffer, and if you suffer, I suffer,” Shields said. “We’re all in this together. Even if the progress is incremental and not as much as we want, that’s better than losing the battle altogether.”
Sophomore Hartley Allen performed with the Inspirational Chorale, and the event lived up to her expectations, Allen said.
“I expected a lot of shouting and praising, and that’s what we got,” Allen said. “The positivity and unity that was felt here is definitely something that should receive more coverage for the benefit of our country.”
Though she expected an average church service, graduate student Morgan Vaughn was surprised, she said.
“Seeing community leaders such as Mayor Jordan and Dean Shields at a celebration like this one means to me that there is change happening,” Vaughn said. “Mayor Jordan has fought for equal rights in all three of his terms and the university is focusing on creating an inclusive environment through the vice provost of diversity and inclusion. It just goes to show how united people can be regardless of where we are.”
Fayetteville’s first Black History Month Parade was scheduled to start at 11 a.m Feb. 24 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and make its way down Dickson Street but was cancelled because of rain, though there are plans to reschedule the event in April, Jones said.
Senior Jamaal Johnson played drums for the Inspired Soul band and appreciated being a part of the experience, he said.
“I noticed a mixture of people in the crowd,” Johnson said. “I expected a majority of black people, but instead, I saw a diverse crowd. It lifted up my spirits seeing everyone together, engaged and participating in the event.”
Junior Chimdera Nzelu sang in the Inspirational Chorale and thinks the event exceeded her expectations, she said.
“I had fun and had the opportunity to fellowship with people I would have never met otherwise,” Nzelu said. “It portrayed culture as it should be, people of all colors standing together to support and love one another.”