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'Where Everybody Could Be Somebody': North Texans Share How The Black Church Shaped Their Lives

A group of people, nicely dressed, pose inside a church. It is a group of Black adults, three men and two women.
Photo courtesy of Brian King
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Community and camaraderie are big themes in people's memories of growing up in the Black church. Here, a group of people gather at New Galiee Baptist Church in Dallas.

For many people, a childhood spent growing up in the church community taught them leadership skills, and gave them an unwavering faith that has guided them as adults.

For many North Texans, the Black church has been a safe place away from discrimination, a place of learning and a beacon of hope.

KERA is exploring the impact of Black Churches in North Texas and many of you shared your stories.

“The Black church has been an extension of my family's lifeline,” said Dallas resident Deloris King, member of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church.

King has been attending the same church for most of her life. She cherishes the sweet memories from Sunday school with “our beautiful and talented teachers.”

Illustration that imitates stained glass with Black figures standing outside a small church.
KERA is exploring the impact and legacy of Black churches on life in North Texas. Immerse yourself in stories, history and memories from across the region.

King saw her instructors, Lola Joshua and Zelma Mixon as role models and their impact later guided King to become a teacher herself for 42 years. She thanks the Black church for shaping the person she is today.

“The church was the heartbeat of the community. It was and is a beacon of hope, where we could breathe because she was secure, we all were the same. And we were safe," said King. "We knew that God was with us, physically in our presence and in our hearts. No fear, no interruptions."

Whichita Falls Rita white ross.jpg
Rita White-Ross
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Courtesy
Rita White-Ross became a leader at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wichita Falls.

The Black church has given Garland resident Rita White-Ross the platform to become a leader.

“The Black church provides an opportunity for me to be a leader in the church from my grade school days, all the way through high school,” said White-Ross, who’s a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. “I still practice those leadership skills today in my career and also in my current church. The Black church has shaped me that I can trust God in His infinite wisdom, no matter what.”

The Black church is where White-Ross learned what it meant to be a servant leader. She said her experience at church led her to pursue nursing and transformed them into the person they are today.

As for 28-year-old Brian King, it’s his faith that keeps him grounded in his work as an attorney.

“I deal with a lot of stressful cases at times,” said King, who’s a member of Antioch Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church.

“In church, it has been so great to be exposed to community outreach and charitable giving,” said King. “It’s now second nature to have a heart, have a special place in my heart to want to give back, to want to reach out to people who may go through circumstances that I may not be familiar.”

King thanks his church experience for building his confidence. According to him it is the place where people “in a sense could let their hair down” and he feels the most welcomed.

He calls the Black church a place where "everybody could be somebody and felt like somebody no matter what society has told them otherwise."

Rhonda Gilbert grew up attending a small Black Baptist Church in rural North Louisiana.

A photo of Greater St. Luke Baptist Church in Arcadia, Louisiana. It is made out of red brick and has reef at its door. It was established in 1854.
Rhonda Gilbert
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Courtesy
Rhonda Gilbert grew up going to Greater St. Luke Baptist Church in Arcadia, Louisiana. The church was established in 1854.

Gilbert, who now lives in Midlothian, Texas, said her childhood church has profoundly influenced who she is today.

“There were oftentimes where families might experience some kind of tough problem. And yet the people were always there for each other,” said Gilbert.

Growing up, Gilbert said, she relied on that sense of community to keep her going when she faced her own set of personal challenges.

She goes back to her favorite memories at the annual homecoming and revival event her church would host. According to her, the event would draw people back home who had migrated north and west in search of jobs.

“We would have a morning service, a huge meal on the church grounds, and an afternoon service complete with a visiting minister and his choir,” she said.

Gilbert remembers twirling around dressed in her Sundays best and singing with her friends and family.

“It was the Black church that taught me foundational truths that are with me today," Gilbert said. "Things such as loving your neighbor as yourself, doing unto others, what you would have them do unto you, reaping what you sow, and forgiving others, even as we seek forgiveness from God."

Note: We've heard from many more of you. We were not able to include all of your responses in this story, but we wanted to thank you for sharing with us.

Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member and writes about the economic impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities for KERA News. Email Alejandra at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.

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