Papi Azzi
Papi Azzi of the Malcolm X Drummers explains the seven principles of Kwanzaa during Ebenezer AME Church's Poetry Ministry's Black History Month celebration in Fort Washington, Maryland, on Feb. 16. (Demetrious Kinney/The Washington Informer)

Dozens at Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Maryland, heard narrations and recitals on Marian Anderson, Mary Jane McLeod Bethune and Richard Allen as part of the church’s Poetry Ministry’s Black History Month celebration on Friday, Feb. 16, as participants portrayed these and other acclaimed figures.

The theme, “If you don’t know, you’d better ask somebody,” encouraged attendees to research, read, explore and ask elders about people such as Roland Hayes, a tenor credited as the first African American to receive international recognition for his concert performances.

Longtime poet Joy Alford helped start the church’s Poetry Ministry 15 years ago and serves as the group’s president. With a black and white press pass pinned to her jacket, Alford portrayed Soledad O’Brien, a veteran news broadcaster, producer, TV host and CEO of Starfish Media.

The church used drama, poetry and African dance as a way to share Black history of icons such as Anderson, who sang before 75,000 people in 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

“Our history was negated and just suppressed because we were not existence to [Whites] — we were tools,” said Karen Wiggs-Wilbanks of Clinton, a classical singer who draped a fur coat over her shoulders to portray Anderson. “Now we need to educate our people [that] we are not tools. We have come from kings and queens. We must never, ever forget we are not underlings.”

Wiggs-Wilkbanks and other presentations spoke in the first person about the lives and perspectives of various individuals as the Malcolm X Drummers lightly tapped on instruments in the background.

Doc Powell, who founded the group, conducted a libation ceremony to honor those who died. As part of the African ritual, he bent over and poured water into a plant and recited a short prayer.

Powell also gave a brief presentation on Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration to honor African culture.

“We are the most creative people on the planet,” Powell said. “Every day of the year is for us to teach and talk about our history. We need to talk about this every day to our children.”

That creativity was showcased Friday as three Malcolm X Dancers donned African attire and danced to the heavy drum beats.

Before the audience clapped their hands, tapped their feet and moved from side to side, they heard the Poetry Ministry’s chaplain, the Rev. Keith Hopps, read some history as Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal church.

They also witnessed Sharon Ingram of Forestville sport a white wig to depict Bethune, an educator and civil rights activist.

“This is an awesome ministry,” said Ingram, who coordinated and facilitated the program. “It is a lot of fun. We see little and sometimes huge miracles right through this ministry and our programs. It’s about learning and having faith.”

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