UCC national offices celebrate Black History Month with music, discussions
Written by Emily Schappacher February 11, 2014
The Heritage Chorale of Cleveland
To Curtis Ross and members of the Heritage Chorale of Cleveland, the true, original form of American music is the Negro spiritual. Born out of slavery, these songs of aggravation, pain, and escape that originated in fields across the South are authentic pieces of American history, Ross said, that need to be respected and preserved. The Cleveland-based choir with the goal to do just that will perform at the United Church of Christ's Amistad Chapel on Wednesday, Feb. 19 in honor of Black History Month.
"Our choir's goal is to keep these songs alive because they are part of our history," said Ross, president and member of the Heritage Chorale of Cleveland. "Songs like 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' – it was actually a secret message that the Underground Railroad was coming through to help slaves escape to the North."
The Heritage Chorale of Cleveland formed in 2002 and has nearly 40 members representing different Christian denominations with the mission to preserve music of the sacred variety, primarily the spiritual, to audiences locally and abroad. The group operates out of Christ Episcopal Church in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and holds five or six concerts a year. While the Chorale's biggest performance takes place each year on the third Sunday of October, the group has also performed internationally in England, France and Italy.
"It's a wonderful group of people and we just share in each other's joy of singing," said Ross, who is a tenor. "We have developed a bond and we are passionate about what we sing and dedicated to spiritual music."
The Heritage Chorale of Cleveland performance is just one of several ways the UCC National Offices will recognize Black History Month 2014. On Thursday, Feb. 13, Gwen Riase, CEO of the US Wealth School in Cleveland, will give a talk about debt management. Riase will discuss her personal experiences of how she became debt free, and share easy, yet effective financial strategies to help families successfully manage their money.
On Tuesday, Feb. 18, Maurice Carney, executive director of Friends of the Congo and an attorney from Washington, D.C., will share a documentary about the Congo followed by a group discussion. Carney has provided analysis on the Congo for Al Jazeera, ABC News, Democracy Now, and Real News Network, among other media outlets. On Friday, Feb. 21, national staff will partake in a sampling of traditional soul foods.
"The events provide opportunities for staff to get to know each other across ministries, oftentimes taking a journey together through media or personal accounts that highlight the culture or little-known Black History facts," said Phyllis Richards, the UCC's program associate for Global Sharing of Resources and coordinator of the Black History Month events. "Staff members of all races are invited to participate in the educational and culturally-rich workshops and worship service events."
In 2014, the UCC's national setting will also recognize other heritage months, such as Women's History Month in March, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in May, and National Hispanic Heritage Month in September.
"In 1993, the UCC adopted a pronouncement and action plan to be a multiracial, multicultural church," Richards said. "It is still relevant today and important as the church proclaims extravagant welcome."