Parker, Basie and Black History in Red Bank


Executive Director Gertrude Kehleay, dressed in the tradition of her native Liberia, greeted an intergenerational, multicultural group of about 100 people gathered at United Methodist Communities at The Wesleyan for their annual Black History Celebration. All American citizens, they came together on the last day of February to celebrate the history and contributions of African Americans, as well as their ancestry representing nearly every continent around the globe.

Keynote speaker, Rev. Darlene Wilson, pastor of the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Red Bank, recounted, “Although we dig down deep in February to discover Black History, it is every month — Black History is history.”

Evidence of Black History abounds in Red Bank. Wilson recalled three notable local African-American figures, physicians Dr. James Parker, Sr. and his son, Dr. James Parker, Jr., as well as Count Basie, A street honors the two doctors as well as the Parker Family Health Center and a theater bears the name of Count Basie.

Quoting from Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, Rev. Wilson affirmed, “Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Maya Angelou all knew they could stop, but did not because Christ strengthened them. Remember somebody’s shoulders we are standing upon; the shoulders the next person may be standing upon UMC at The Wesleyan Kehleay & Wilsoncould be yours.”

In the context of a once-segregated Red Bank, she cited, “We can now sit next to one another in the Count Basie Theater and play ball together in Count Basie Park.”

Guests dined on fried chicken, mashed potatoes, string beans, salad and fruit dessert, and in keeping with the theme, sang America the Beautiful, Lord, You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me and The Lord Is Blessing Me Right Now.

Mary Patichio, social service coordinator at The Wesleyan, has been involved with social justice issues and shared an article, Black Lives Matter, published by Ben & Jerry’s. It urged people to understand and admit the problem, recognize the perspectives of others and come together to give all citizens dignity and equal justice.

With the message resonating, people shared personal stories at their tables. Maylene Rosheuvel, a Red Bank resident, proudly shared that her daughter, a director of racial justice for a faith-based organization, conducts racial justice workshops, promotes immigrant rights and organizes political action.

Despite the gains, Rev. Wilson, urged, “We’ve come a long way and we still have a long way to go, not just as blacks — we have to go this journey together, as this is the only way to change.”

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