OKEECHOBEE — For over 30 years, the young people of the New Saint Stephen AME Church have been making Okeechobee proud as they bring home medal after medal, year after year. Each year, they go to a competition called, “Black Heritage” which is put on by the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
According to their website, “The Black Heritage Weekend is an activity sponsored by the 11th Episcopal District Young People’s and Children’s Division of the Women’s Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. It is a weekend of activities designed to promote high self-esteem, academic achievement, and spiritual growth, while focusing on our African-American and Bahamian heritage.”
This region is comprised of Florida and the Bahamas, said Danyta Delagall, and all the AME churches in the region are invited to participate. “It’s a competition, a “meeting of the minds” so to speak.”
They compete in more than just academics too. They have categories such as oratory, monologue, poetry, photography, creative drawing. They have a brain bowl, a spelling bee, athletics like basketball, kickball, and beginning this year — volleyball.
The gathering of youths age 3 to 26 is held once a year. Usually, the activities start on Friday and go on until Sunday. Friday is mostly used for registration, and then on Saturday, they begin the competitions. They have a schedule from 8 a.m. until about 4 p.m., and the kids compete all day long.
The competitions are targeted toward African-American history, said Charlotte Delagall. “For example, the monologue has to be by a black author,” said Mrs. Danyta. Her son, Channing, enjoys competing in the monologue competition and usually brings home a medal. The students choose what they want to participate in, but at least one of their choices must be academic. “Everyone must write an essay,” said Mrs. Charlotte. “Usually the prompt is chosen by the AME church,” said Mrs. Danyta. “It is based on their age though.”
They have little obstacle course competitions for the very young children. This year, they have two 3-year-olds going with them who will be reciting poems.
When all the competitions end, they do what is called a “Step Show,” and any of the youth who choose to do so, can join in. A step show is hard to describe, she said. You almost have to see it to understand what it is. (According to Wikipedia, Stepping or step-dancing is a form of percussive dance in which the participant’s entire body is used as an instrument to produce complex rhythms and sounds through a mixture of footsteps, spoken word, and hand claps. Though stepping may be performed by an individual, it is generally performed by groups of three or more, often in arrangements that resemble military formations.)
On Sunday morning, they have a worship service, with a special speaker, and those who have won medals are presented with them afterward.
“We started out going to Tampa, then it was Orlando. Now it is Jacksonville,” said Mrs. Charlotte. “It’s getting harder though. The hotels are so expensive now. They used to cut the prices for us, but I don’t think they cut the price this year. Prices are just outrageous.”
They take a different number of youth every year. Last year it was 25. This year it is 19. The young people enjoy going, because it gives them a way to show their gifts and talents, said Mrs. Danyta. The trip will cost about $4,000 this year. This will pay for motel rooms and van rentals and will give the kids a stipend for some food for the trip. They have already raised about half the money, said Mrs Danyta, but they are all working hard to come up with the remainder. They are wrapping up a Krispy Kreme fundraiser and have several car washes planned, so if you see the children out washing cars or collecting money, considering donating to a worthy cause. “Any donations should be made out to New Saint Stephen AME church,” said Mrs. Charlotte.
The competition is Feb. 14-16.