Brandy Norwood is no stranger to juggling the music and film scene. She had an early start in 1993 on TV series “Thea” and was 15 years old when her debut album, “Brandy,” was released the following year. Two years later, she became the star of the UPN network sitcom “Moesha.”
Screaming fans and attendees of the sixth annual Global Fusion Festival chanted, “Brandy!” — calling the award-winning R&B singer/actress to return to the stage after her headlining performance last Saturday.
Brandy left her mark at the festival, gracing the stage singing “Put it Down” from her upcoming album, “Two Eleven,” along with songs that took the audience on a trip down memory lane. She performed a few of her ’90s hits, including “I Wanna Be Down” and “Baby” from her 1994 album titled “Brandy.”
Following a slew of artists, including Kenny Lattimore, Luke James, Elle Varner and Kendrick Lamar, Brandy’s finale was complete after the persistent crowd got her to return on stage for one more song. The crowd cheered and sang along as Brandy came back and performed “The Boy is Mine,” a 1998 duet with award-winning singer/actress Monica.
She won a Grammy award for the “Boy is Mine,” from her best-selling album, “Never Say Never,” then later released albums “Full Moon,” “Afrodisiac” and “Human.” With a wide-range of awards under her belt and making “Billboard’s Hot 100 Song of the Year,” Brandy also had various roles on both TV sitcoms and in films including, “Cinderella” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”
Balancing acting and singing, Brandy explained that after being on a hiatus for some time — “It’s time to get out there and work.”
She plans to continue her role on BET’s show “The Game,” while maintaining her singing career.
“It’s also about finding time to make quality time for the people that you love, plus the fans that I love too, so it works itself out — it’s a lot of fun though,” Brandy explained in a press conference following the show. “I like them [music and acting] both, they both give me a different feeling.”
Brandy’s upcoming album is heavily influenced by her surroundings. She explained that music is “therapeutic” and a way to express whatever is going on in her life — including her love life.
“I feel like the chapter in my life in the last couple of years is what the album represents,” she said. “Music is supposed to come from an honest place, I’m definitely celebrating the fact that love has definitely entered my life in a very positive way.”
In Brandy’s newest album, fans can look forward to experiencing “the core of R&B,” as she describes it. She expressed the joy of working with writers like singer/songwriter/producer Sean Garret and Ester Dean and producers like Grammy-award winning producer Bangladesh. Brandy was also enthused about her work with various artists, including R&B singer Frank Ocean, who she describes as a “genius and a gift to the world.”
With the excitement of her upcoming album and continuing to remain close to her R&B roots, Brandy was pleased with the positive feedback from the Philly audience.
“The crowd was unbelievable, they were chanting through the quiet moments in the show, it just felt like everybody was my friend — that’s how it felt from the moment I got here,” she said. “I just felt really welcomed and at home — I like Philly —
there are some good people from Philly.”
Brandy smiled, referencing her boyfriend, Ryan, who is from Philadelphia.
Brandy’s upcoming album, “Two Eleven,” is scheduled to release Oct. 2.
The word “thankful” goes deeper than its name for Thankful Baptist Church, a church that appreciates its community and focuses on giving back. Founded in 1923, Thankful Baptist has proven that its members are dedicated to both its sanctuary and the community.
The Rev. Ivan B. Hewitt, the pastor at Thankful, has been serving the church for the past 25 years. With just four pastors preceding him in an almost 90-year history, Thankful prides itself on the longevity of both the leadership and the members.
“The fact that I’m the fifth pastor in 90 years is unique,” said Hewitt. “I am the second in longevity; Rev. Harrison J. Trap the pastor preceding me, was here for 38 years.”
Thankful Baptist Church, at 1608 W. Allegheny Ave., transmits enthusiasm both inside the sanctuary and out. In an effort to reach out and aid the community, the church owns various properties in the neighborhood and is looking to buy three more houses, Hewitt said.
“The intent is to own the whole block,” he said. “We are still trying. We are a mission church. We feel a sense of movement, but we are not moving as fast as we ought to be, we are not moving as far as we want to — but there is a sense of movement.”
In close proximity to the church is the Thankful Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that provides day care, after-school and parenting programs. As Hewitt explained, years ago the church lent use of a building to the organizers, with free use of utilities and electricity, before it returned to the neighborhood, bought a space and named it the Thankful Learning Center. The church maintains a good relationship with the center.
“Some of their workers are members of the church,” Hewitt said.
Emma L. Parish, 91, has been a member of Thankful for 65 years. Parish has experienced various changes within the church, but through many years still feels it holds the important values it has intended to.
“This church means so much to me — I’ll tell you, when I first came here from Georgia my husband and I both joined the church when it was on 21st Street,” Parish said. “I’ve seen them come and go, but everything is still all right. Ain’t nobody going to run me away now.”
The churchgoers at Thankful Baptist are engaged in its sermons and missions. On Sunday, July 15, Hewitt reached his church by preaching the message to always “have church in you.” He explained the importance of worship and allowing it to constantly be present.
“If nobody but me … I’m going to have church by myself, just me and the Lord,” he told the congregation.
This message surely transmits their devotion to the community. Every Wednesday, Thankful provides meals to people in the neighborhood. Additionally, the congregation hosts what they call “Community Day” when they give away clothing and food to those in the area.
“That’s not us being generous; we feel we owe it to the community,” Hewitt said. “We have a parking lot across the street, but the community can use it anytime. We feel that we are here because of the community — we try to make this a beacon in the area — they make us better.”
The church also donates electric fans to community members who need them. Should they also need assistance in paying their electric bills, Thankful offers assistance in paying those bills for a period of time.
“Our job is to bless those in the community and hopefully God will bless us,” Hewitt said.
Thankful Baptist has had a few prominent figures visit throughout the years, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Its widespread outreach also includes mission work in Cuba and Haiti, developed under the leadership of Hewitt’s predecessor, the Rev. Harrison J. Trap.
Thankful also has a social action approach, with a life membership to the NAACP and a commitment to support schools such as Delaware State, Temple University, Cheyney University and Virginia Union.
“We support schools where our members go to,” Hewitt said.
The Rev. Gerald Love is a long-time member of Thankful and the church has played an important role in his life.
“This church means everything to me. I was raised here in this church; I’ve been a part of this church since the ’60s,” he said. “I came to the church with my mother and I’ve attended Sunday school, Bible school, [and] camp, and I worked under Rev. Trap. He was a wonderful man. I traveled with him all over the United States. He did a lot of work in missions all over in Africa and the Caribbean. I’ve been a part of this church all my life, it’s just a joy. I love the fellowship, I love the people.”
The Rev. Barbara Day reflects on her 14-year journey at Thankful and feels ever more grateful for Hewitt, the church and the warm presence of its members. She previously belonged to another church until an incident occurred where she recalled knowing it was a good time for her to find a new church home.
“I am so grateful I belong to the Thankful Baptist Church. I’ve been here for 14 years, and this was the best decision I could make,” Day said. “I think Pastor Hewitt is the most humble person. All I need to do is see him … when I see him I get joy in my heart — I really do. He is so genuine.”
Throughout Thankful’s long history, the church has experienced various changes in its different communities. Hewitt reflected on a major increase in thievery in the late ’80s.
“Now it seems the closer you come to the church, the better the neighborhood is,” he said.
As a church that is focused on its community and social change, Thankful Baptist will continue to make its mark in the neighborhood.
“We are an oasis, and we open our doors to anyone.”
Intimate, warm and welcoming describes the atmosphere at First Colored Wesley Methodist Church — a church with a long history in the city. After a six-year search for a new pastor, First Colored Wesley recently celebrated the installation of the Rev. Ralinda Golback. The congregation was cheerful and uplifted as Golback shared her excitement over her new role at the morning service preceding the installation.
First Colored Wesley Methodist Church stands in a diverse South Philly neighborhood blocks from the Avenue of the Arts. The church’s history goes back to the origins of the Black church in Philadelphia, beginning on June 16, 1820, when a group of members from Bethel Church organized a new congregation. They held services in various locations in Old City and utilizing a carpenter shop on a lot on the north side of Lombard Street between Fifth and Sixth streets. The church’s first pastor was the Rev. Joshua Blue and the congregation transformed the shop into a house of worship.
After establishing an affiliation with a newly formed Zion organization in New York, First Colored Wesley held the second Annual Conference for the new denomination on May 16, 1822. The congregation was incorporated as the First Colored Wesley Methodist Church on May 31, 1826.
In 1885, the church was under the new leadership of the Rev. J.P. Thompson and relocated to the southwest corner of 15th and Lombard streets. Unfortunately, part of the church was destroyed by a fire, forcing the congregation to worship at the Horticultural Hall on Broad Street. The congregation did not allow the fire to diminish their spirits.
Through decades of perseverance, a fire, leadership and building changes, First Colored Wesley bought its current location at 17th and Fitzwater streets on Nov. 21, 1943. The Rev. John H. Larkins became the pastor in 1945 and served until 1971. Its rich and extensive history has instilled a sense of pride in the congregation that is still present today.
First Colored Wesley began the search for a pastor in 2006. Who better than Golback, a member of the church for 29 years?
Golback became a member in 1983 and served as church clerk for 23 years. She explained she had received her “calling” years before, but it wasn’t until 2006 that she decided to stop denying it and “relinquished,” as she describes it.
“This is my home church, I just love it and love each and every member here,” Golback said. “God has just blessed me to be able to be elected to this position — I’m awestruck.”
First Colored Wesley may be small in size, but is grand in enthusiasm, engagement and smiling faces. Their warm approach keeps members dedicated to its mission.
Michele Neal, South Philadelphia resident, a musician, has played the piano and the organ at First Colored Wesley for more than 10 years. Neal got involved with the music ministry at First Colored Wesley when a friend recommended she play at the church.
“Their musician left, so I came and started to minister to them in song, and they liked the way I played and told me to come and play for three choirs — the gospel chorus the youth department and the fifth Sunday choir,” she said. “They are beautiful warm-hearted people.”
Neal feels the spirit in the church is very uplifting and one of the main goals of First Colored Wesley is to uplift everyone who comes. She was excited for the installation of Golback and feels it is a “joyous” celebration.
The service preceding the installation was celebratory as the congregation cheerfully welcomed Golback’s new position. She addressed her soon-to-be congregation and relayed, “I can only praise God for what he’s done in my life.”
As part of their unique and intimate practice, the congregation members joined in a circle at the pulpit within the service, held hands and bowed their heads as their pastor-elect led them in a prayer.
The Rev. Arthur P. Wells delivered the sermon of the day, welcoming Golback’s installation. He discussed utilizing the resources God has given. Referencing a Michael Jackson hit, “Man in the Mirror,” Wells explained that everyone at some point needs to look within and “get done whatever we need in God’s house — there is a treasure that God laid out for us, but you first have to locate it.” He said it has always been in God’s plan for Golback to assume this position.
“God knew Rev. Ralinda would be ready to lead this congregation,” he said.
“I wanted to prepare the congregation for a new pastor — looking toward the future, we thank God for 192 years of the past,” Wells said. “We have to look at ourselves and examine ourselves on whether we are ready to work for another 192 years — that’s our plan so we will be able to support her in her endeavors”
First Colored Wesley consistently works to do outreach in the community and to encourage and increase membership. The congregation embraces their location and the changes in their surroundings, by opening their door to their diverse neighbors.
“I look forward to building up the membership and continuing to build up spiritually. I want to reach out to some who have lapsed in their attendance, we want to reach back to them for them to come back and support us and be apart of us,” Golback said. “There’s also a new field that’s here — there’s a new spirit, I want to watch that spirit.”
She believes it is important to reach out to young people, since she believes youths are often disillusioned by what they hear in the media. She’s hoping as a congregation they can instill change, make a difference in their community and inspire others to encourage a difference in the world.
The congregation at First Colored Wesley Methodist Church embraces the past, but looks forward to a new and ever-changing future.
Tekserve, New York City’s Apple Macintosh, iPod and accessories specialist, recently hosted a photography exhibition featuring images from Chester Higgins Jr., a staff photographer from The New York Times since 1975. Outside of his work for The New York Times, Higgins has visited Africa more than 30 times to capture photos of the people, ancient cities and small town life in various African countries including; Ethiopia, Mali, Senegal and Ghana.
Higgins grew up in Alabama and started traveling to Africa in 1973. During his first trip, he visited for a week but for the last 12 years he has visited the continent for six weeks at a time. He often brings his wife and their children to visit as well. In an effort to fully embrace all that was around him, Higgins began hiring a driver so he could enjoy looking around as they traveled. Higgins has traveled through various villages and towns, often camping out and building relationships with the people in the areas.
“The photographs that I do are very personal and in order to do that people have to feel really comfortable with me,” he said. “When I go to a village, I present myself because the thing in Africa is; they question what your mission is. So I sit down and try to answer that question.”
Higgins began traveling to Ethiopia and was intrigued by the country’s history and culture.
“Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that has never been colonized by Europeans and the people have a sense of ancient pride and a very ancient culture,” he said. “It’s a very different kind of place.”
Through his experiences and travels, Higgins believes the media often does not show an accurate depiction of Africa. His photographs and artwork are meant to counteract that.
“In New York City we live in a very artificial environment and the message most people get about Africa is that everything is bad,” he said. “I’m just trying to connect the people on a very spiritual level and to take you out of your artificial environment and take you to Africa — a very natural environment. I’m trying to show people here that there is a whole other reality.”
Higgins’ fine art books include “Feeling the Spirit: Searching the World for the People of Africa,” “Elder Grace: The Nobility of Aging” and “Echo of the Spirit.”
In celebration of its ninth anniversary, local organization Mothers in Charge recently held the “Commemoration of Peace, Mothers Still Standing” event at Penn’s Landing Caterers, located at 1301 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd. in South Philadelphia.
Dorothy Johnson-Speight, whose 24-year-old son was murdered in 2001, founded Mothers in Charge. The organization’s mission is aimed for violence prevention, education and intervention and community advocacy.
On May 15, Mothers in Charge gathered to reflect on accomplishments, and honor and recognize various individuals and organizations and welcome Roxanna Green.
Green is the mother of slain 9-year-old Christina TaylorGreen, who was killed at the shooting at a political rally involving Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on January 8, 2011. Green was honored by her invitation from Johnson-Speight to attend the Mothers in Charge event.
“I knew it was going to be a great thing because we have the same values and mission,” Green said. “Our foundation is focused on youth and it’s all the same — stopping violence; we hope to do things in the future together and somehow partner.”
She started a foundation called, “The Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation,” to honor the life of her daughter through charitable and educational projects.
Green, author of “As Good as She Imagined: The Redeeming Story of the Angel of Tucson,” wrote this book as an inspirational piece for anyone who is going through a difficult time. Writing her book became a part of her grieving process.
“It was so therapeutic,” she said.
Johnson-Speight and Mothers in Charge was pleased to have Green in attendance and available for book signings.
“She and I made it a pledge we would work together in the future,” Johnson-Speight said. “I think the key is going to be, to organize those efforts on a national basis — our goal next year is to have a national platform for our 10th anniversary.”
Of those honored at the event was, Commissioner Dr. Arthur Evans and Bill Hart, executive director of the R.I.S.E (Reintegration Services for Ex-offenders).
“We do a lot of programs in the prisons,” Johnson-Speight said.
Both Johnson-Speight and Green agree it is important to build relationships and have community members involved in these efforts.
“I would encourage women and men to find people in your community and city — it has been therapeutic and powerful,” Green said. “I think about how Christina was such a happy child; she wouldn’t want me to be moping.”
To get involved with Mothers in Charge or the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation, visit mothersincharge.org and www.christina-taylorgreen.org.