Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

Emmanuel-Brinklow Honors Living Legends

Congressman John Lewis embraces former Klu Klux Klan member Elwin WilsonStory by Taashi Rowe
Photos by Taashi Rowe & Curtis Francis​

Members of the Allegheny East Conference’s Emmanuel-Brinklow church in Ashton, Md., recently stood witness as a former member of the Klu Klux Klan embraced a man who he beat some 50 years ago. Back then that man was a Freedom Rider participating in the Civil Rights Movement. Today that man who was beaten is better known as U.S. Congressman John Lewis. Rep. Lewis was one of four people that the Emmanuel-Brinklow church recently honored during the church’s sixth annual Living Legends Awards for Service to Humanity. The honorees included Frazier and Virginia Mathis, Emmanuel-Brinklow members and founders of Global Vessels—a missionary organization; Ella Jenkins, a Grammy-award-winning children’s musician; and Congressman Lewis.

The evening, which drew not only church members, but visitors from the community and beyond, wove together a rich tapestry of history and music. Each award was preceded by either sacred dance or song.

This year’s theme “Footprints on the World,” highlighted how each honoree has made an impact beyond their own community’s borders. “We look for individuals who impact not just their immediate environment, but the world at large,” explained Doreen Hines, executive director. We give them “accolades while they are living, with the hope that they will inspire others to go out and do likewise.”

Geoffrey Mbwana, a vice president of the General Conference who hails from Tanzania where Global Vessels has an orphanage, introduced the Mathises. “I’m here to speak for the children who could not be here from my country. If we followed [the Mathises] footprints it would take us around the world and we’d see two ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” he said. “The best way to multiply footprints is to help someone, and watch them help others.”

In accepting the award, Virginia, gave God all the glory and also thanked the Emmanuel-Brinklow church. “God is awesome,” she said. “I want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to serve Him.”

Frazier then added, “God places something in your heart that is bigger than yourself, then you get the award?” He marveled. “God is amazing. This church has been an example to us in how to give and how to share. I want to share this [award] with everybody. We couldn’t have done this without you.”

Fellow musicians Cathy Fink and Marxer presented Jenkins with her award noting that Jenkins “Very early saw beauty in diversity and devoted her life to life’s greatest resources: children. She would sing and teach songs she hoped would lead to change, and [we] know it has.”

Before she accepted the award, Jenkins could not repress the musician in her, she called all the children onto the stage to join her and members of the Children’s Chorus of Washington. In call and response fashion, Jenkins taught the children some of her songs and, then, got the entire audience involved!

“I’m truly honored to be here,” she said. “It was a wonderful surprise.”

Elwin Wilson, the former KKK member, presented the award to Congressman Lewis. As he accepted the award, Lewis embraced Wilson and called him his brother. “We met nearly 50 years ago during the Freedom Rides in South Carolina,” Lewis recounted. “I was beaten. Since those days Wilson has visited my office and asked for forgiveness. In the final analysis, we are one people, one house, we are brothers and sisters and we are all children of God.

“As a child I asked parents and grandparents, ‘Why segregation?’ and they would say, ‘That’s the way it is. Don’t get in trouble!’ One day I heard about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King … and I’ve been getting in trouble ever since.”

In closing the program, Markus Williams, artistic director of the Living Legends Awards, shared, “We hope you’ve been inspired to open wide the gates of peace as you leave this place.”

Anthony Medley, senior pastor, spoke to visitors saying, “To share this experience with you is our joy. We see this as a privilege of service, and we are glad to do it.”

The Living Legends Awards for Service to Humanity started at the Emmanuel-Brinklow church in 2006. So far, they have honored 18 people, including evangelist C.D. Brooks, concert pianist Leon Bates, civil rights activist Carlotta LaNier, medical missionary Samuel DeShay, historian/educator Emory Tolbert and presidential portrait artist Simmie Knox.

Vanessa Waite, a longtime Brinklow member, says she comes to this event every year. “These opportunities don’t always avail themselves to us,” she said. “It feels good to learn about people who have shaped our community. It also makes me happy to see that there are members in my church who think outside the box.”

Photo: Congressman John Lewis embraces former Klu Klux Klan member Elwin Wilson

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