Smoking for Jesus’ Black History Month event highlights artistic contributions

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

KINGSLAND— When Joan Lawrence of the Smoking for Jesus school began putting together the campus’ upcoming Black History Month program, she hoped her students and attendees would take away more than just a history lesson.

“I hope that they will be inspired,” she said. “Maybe even go into the arts.”

The program is 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Smoking for Jesus church, 1804 FM 2342 about a mile north of the RR 1431 intersection. This year’s program features African-American artists — who are also Christian artists, Lawrence pointed out.

“Our goal is to make black history relevant to our students,” she said. “There’s really not much written in textbooks about some of the major African-American figures. We want the students to learn that they can connect and relate to these people.”

Lawrence does a tremendous amount of research herself on the subject. It’s not always easy, she admitted, because she’s not only trying to gather information on African-American artists, but Christian ones. But the rewards, are, well, what she hears in the students’ voices or sees in their faces when they make that connection with one of the people they’re studying.

One of the singers the program is highlighting is Mahalia Jackson, considered the queen of gospel music. Lawrence recalled hearing and even seeing Jackson perform in the past.

Lawrence selected a young girl to perform one of Jackson’s songs during the program. During rehearsals, Lawrence noticed there was just something missing from the youth’s rendition.

So she explained to the child that, whenever Jackson sang, it always came from the heart.

The child continued to work at the song.

“Yesterday (Feb. 10), I looked at the little girl and smiled because she was feeling the song in her heart and it was coming through in how she sang,” Lawrence said.

Along with singing, people will enjoy readings, dance and music. Other artists that will be featured during the program include writer Zilpha Elaw, poet Phillis Wheatley and musician Thomas Dorsey.

Dorsey is considered the father of gospel music since he’s credited with creating the form.

Lawrence said about 50 youth from pre-kindergarten through middle school as well as some older teens will participate in the program. Lawrence hopes the youth, as they study the artists, will learn not only who they were but what they endured.

“For most of black artists, it was really a struggle because they were African-American,” Lawrence said. “When you look at their lives and what they went through, it looked insurmountable. But they were Christians, and God brought them through.”

As for the audience, Lawrence hopes people of all backgrounds and races will attend.

“It’s very important that we communicate with each other and learn from each other,” she said. “I hope the program will inspire some of (the audience) to study black history more. There are some many interesting and inspiring black history figures who have wonderful stories. We just need to hear them.”

Call (512) 756-1712 for more information.

daniel@thepicayune.com