The Women at Brown Memorial CME Church
For Women's History month Big Mama shares her history at Brown Memorial CME Church as a little girl.
Last week one of my mentors Mrs. Beverly Johnson invited me to a zoom meeting by the church where I grew up. It was a celebration for Women’s History Month at Brown Memorial CME Church in Louisville, KY. As I logged onto the zoom, so many familiar faces from my past popped on the screen. It reminded me of words from James Baldwin’s book, I am not your Negro:
“I missed Harlem Sunday mornings and fried chicken and biscuits, I missed the music, I missed the style that style possessed by no other people in the world.
I missed, in short, my connections, missed the life which had produced me, and nourished me and paid for me.
I was home.”
I was indeed “home.” As we all greeted one another, Mrs. Emma Talbott our speaker for the hour, and mentor of mine, asked us to reflect on women other than our mothers that influenced us. Beautiful faces and memories of all of the top-dressed women began to flood my mind: “The style that style possessed by no other people on the world.” Back in the day, Black people in church had a style not matched by any other. It was a sense of pride to wear your Sunday best to church. As a little girl I got to see not just beautiful women but talented women who were running things and served as the driving force behind the church. I saw examples of married women with children in tow and single women, all making an impact.
One woman that came to my mind was Mrs. Ida Suggs. She was my youth director at Brown Memorial. She poured so much into our youth group. We were a family and she steered the ship that was the youth of Brown Memorial. Mrs. Suggs and my Great-great-Aunt Ola Mae Johnson, (I mentioned her in my past posts about my Big Mama influences) pushed me to the for front as a youth. At the time they must have seen something in me that I did not see in myself, or maybe they just needed a volunteer! They signed me up to read the announcements in front of the congregation every week! Little did I understand that this would sharpen my public speaking skills. I was hand chosen to be the local youth vice president at Brown Memorial and the CME district youth president. I got the privilege of traveling all summer with Mrs. Emma Harris to attend district meetings, events, and banquets. This gave me the opportunity to broaden my public speaking skills as well as learn etiquette for these social situations. Then Mrs. Suggs signed me up for the Black Achievers Program at the YMCA. I had the opportunity to apply for scholarships through essays and in person interviews. With the help from my Brown Memorial experiences my resume looked stellar and I was awarded the Humana Scholarship which paid full tuition and books plus a summer job every year while I was in college.
After I graduated from college with a degree in Speech/Language Pathology I was assigned to work at Shawnee HS as a speech therapist. Guess who was the principal at Shawnee? Mrs. Ida Suggs! She quickly picked up where she left off, volunteering me to speak to the students on the day they had to do their public speaking assignments. I must say that as a grown woman I was still unable to say no to Mrs. Suggs. The youth would say, when Mrs. Ida “voluntells” you to do something you do it! Now as I reflect, she equipped me with everything I needed to succeed as a young woman. Thank you, Mrs. Ida Suggs.
I write this to state the fact to never underestimate the effect you can have on someone’s life by just being your everyday self. These women poured life into me at Brown Memorial by showing up every Sunday. Some of them taught me in Sunday school, some of them taught me to sing, some of them taught me how to dress, some of them taught me how to speak and behave in social situations, some of then told me I was beautiful and smart, but collectively I had extremely strong women role models in my sights every week. I will list a few of them because I want to say their names and say thank you, women of Brown Memorial:
Ola Mae Johnson