Friday, August 25, 2017 || By Shanel Romain || @maywoodnews
On Aug. 19, dozens of community members gathered on the grounds of Christian Unity Church, 2140 Washington Blvd. in Bellwood, for the resurgence of the church’s annual Gospel fest after a two-year hiatus.
The event — formally called the Worship on Washington Back to School Youth Explosion/Unity in the Community Day — featured vendors selling handmade jewelry, food, school supplies, a bounce house, live Gospel music and a panel discussion.
The discussion probed some pressing modern problems, the organizers said. Why, for instance, do only two in 10 Americans under 30 years old believe attending church is important or worthwhile, according to recent research? Why have nearly 60 percent of millennials who were raised in the church dropped out?
“A lot of young people are silenced and don’t have platforms,” said Jimmie Maggette, a Bellwood native who grew up in Christian Unity, but now pastors in California. “The youth feel a certain way about things but don’t actually get to talk about them.”
Magette, along with Christian Unity’s co-pastors, Revs. Jerry and Annette Barker, organized the panel discussion, which featured a range of community influencers, such as Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey; community leader and Luvabulls choreographer Kim Tyler; and youth leader Shaveena Brandon.
“When Jimmie reached out to me and asked me to be part of the panel, and to bring unity to the community, I jumped at the chance,” said Harvey, who added that he’s known Maggette and his family for years. “I’m all about the community in the village of Bellwood and figuring out ways to bring residents closer together.”
Maggette said that he’s hoping the panel discussion goes beyond talk and into the realm of action.
“We have a great panel of people and we’ve talked about some important things now there should be a call to action for our youth and the community as a whole,” he said.
For Barker, who follows in the footsteps of her father — the late Bishop Willie Dugan, who founded Christian Unity over 30 years ago — the church has always been about going beyond the physical walls.
Barker said that she decided to add a panel discussion for the first time to the roughly 25-year-old fest — which was started by her father and her sister, Marguerite Maggette — in order to add another dimension to the event.
“This is good ground to sow in,” she said. “The reason I’m so passionate about taking this church out into the streets is because I can remember about 10 years ago now, we were out there ministering and I was praying and were singing.”
“There was this lady sitting on her porch and she heard the Gospel songs and the prayers that were going forth,” Barker recalled. “She got up off of her porch steps and she made her way to the church. She joined the church and she’s been here ever since. That makes this all worth it.”
Michael Romain contributed to this report.