COLUMBIA — The individual voices of the congregation at St. Luke's United Methodist Church became one on Sunday as the gospel music began to echo through the hall, moving people to get up out of their pews to clap and sway to the chorus.
The annual Gospel Explosion & Soul Food Dinner Musical Celebration brought people together to commemorate the history of the local black community, but it was also an opportunity to look toward the future.
"I enjoy the rich history of Columbia and hearing about the leadership," said the Rev. Carmen Williams of Russell Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal. "But let me ask, where are the leaders of the future?"
That message was a recurring one.
Event coordinator Bill Thompson recalled stories of important figures in the history of the local black community, including Tom Bass, a slave turned famous horse trainer. Bass, among many other things, created a bit that was more comfortable for horses to wear, but he did not patent it. He felt that just doing something to better the community was more than enough of a reward.
"There are people that do things because it's the right thing to do. That's what we need our kids to understand," Thompson said.
More recent civic leaders were also remembered for the impact they left on the community. Almeta Crayton and Wynna Faye Elbert were included in the commemoration, as members called for future leaders to continue their work, including the renovation of Douglass Park.
The event has continued to bring a community of different church members together for more than 30 years. Moving forward, organizers say they will continue to focus on both the history and the future of their community. Performers and speakers entertained the congregation for two hours with a lineup of traditional gospel styles and personal and historical stories of struggle and success.
"I will be happy when we don't have African-American history month at all," Thompson said. "I want African-American history to be a part of all history."
Through their ballads, performers shared their own histories and struggles, relaying the message that history doesn't have to repeat itself. Through his own lyrics, Robert Wilson reminded himself and others to never give up.
"It's not how many times you start, it's how things turn out in the end," Wilson sang.
After years of battling discrimination, addiction, and incarceration, Wilson said he is still chasing his dream.
"As a child I wanted to be either a singer or a minister. I can say I'm doing both now because singing is my ministry," Wilson said.
Wilson went to high school during the civil rights movement, and he was tempted to give up on his education. But his mother wouldn't let him.
"I don't care what they do. You're going to get an education," Wilson said, recalling his mother's words. "That was the beginning. Look then and look where we are now."
Wilson has been attending the Explosion since 2000 and has been a part of the performance since 2002. He woke up with a cold and a raspy singing voice this morning, almost breaking his 14-year attendance streak.
"The devil was trying to get me to stay home this morning," Wilson said. "But the Lord and my wife said no way, you're going."
Many others like Wilson were there to send a message to younger generations.
"It reminds us of where we've come from, and how much farther we need to press on," said Deloris Hill, of the Second Missionary Baptist Church, who had performed a gospel ballad for the crowd with her husband on the guitar.
Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.