What an honor to be asked to speak at such an auspicious occasion. And what an honor to be asked to speak in your hometown … in your home church … with family members and friends in attendance.
Such was the case Sunday afternoon, January 7, as Andre McCants Hodges addressed the congregation at the Gaines Chapel AME Emancipation Proclamation Celebration.
“It’s great to be back in my home church,” Ms. Hodges said. “I’m thankful for the lessons taught here in this church.”
She talked about the impact of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation – more than four million people were freed; the way was paved for the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Proclamation prompted the rise of independent church denominations, especially important to the African American community.
“We’ve come a long way since 1863,” Ms. Hodges said. “In 2018, we still have a long way to go. We want to see all people excel.”
To the youth in the congregation, she said, “Increase your knowledge and increase your drive to be the best. Keep rooted in the church … Always seek God. Strive for greatness.”
She reminded them of their right to attend church and their right to go to school.
Mrs. Hodges encouraged all to work together across color, cultural, faith and political lines.
“The best way to celebrate is for us to talk to each other, not at each other,” she said. “Love one another, help one another.”
Melinda Robinson presided over the program. Providing musical accompaniment were pianist Urla Boggan and Minister of Music organist W.J. Grissett.
Thaddeus Pace presented the opening prayer followed by Scripture reading taken from Genesis 5 by Pastor Isabelle Brazzell. Ms. Kelly Pleasant extended the Welcome with John 15:5 as her Scripture: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
Representatives in attendance from local clubs and organizations were recognized – Progressive Civic and Recreational Club, Neighborhood Garden Club, Ladies of Essence, and Concerned Citizens of Atmore.
Board of Education Chairman W.J. Grissett presented remarks about the status of county public schools and the board’s mission in preparing students for life.“Our children are our most precious resources,” he said.
For the Occasion portion of the program, Shelton Frye talked about the meaning of emancipation – the act of releasing.
“We are celebrating a process today,” he said. “It began with a Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, a courageous man … The process is still going on. We cannot lose ground. Thank you to Abraham Lincoln and those courageous freed men.”
Mayor Jim Staff brought greetings from the City of Atmore on this “gracious occasion.” He spoke about the Escambia County Middle School’s fourth grade’s ranking as number one in math in the state in a recent competition.
“I’m proud of our school system,” he said. “We were failing two years ago. We have overcome that. Atmore is heading in the right direction. We’re going to make Atmore great again.”
Mayor Staff talked about the bloody Civil War, then read a proclamation from the city on the occasion of the Emancipation Proclamation Celebration at Gaines Chapel on January 7.
Special music was provided by the Gaines Chapel AME Choir. The Gaines Chapel AME Praise Team, J.A.M. (Jesus and Me), performed a special selection.
Ms. Theresa White introduced the speaker.
Gaines Chapel Pastor Amos Smith made closing remarks.
About Andre McCants Hodges
Ms. Hodges is the daughter of Betty McCants Bradley and the niece of Urla Boggan.
She attended A.C. Moore Elementary School and graduated from Escambia County High School in 1991 in the top 20 of her class. She attended Alabama State University on an academic scholarship, graduating in 1996 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. She later attended the University of New Orleans, Dillard University, and Xavier University to become an educator and earned her Master’s Degree in Education Curriculum and Instruction. While teaching in Louisiana, she was named Teacher of the Year for New Orleans Public Schools.
In 2001, Ms. Hodges moved back to Escambia County and taught and coached at her alma mater, ECHS, from 2001 to 2006. In 2006, she returned to Montgomery and taught at Jefferson Davis High School, the third largest high school in Alabama. Since being in Montgomery, she earned her Master’s and Education Specialist degrees in Education Leadership. She is now serving in her second school term as assistant principal at Bellingrath Middle School, with a total of 20 years of experience as an educator.
Mrs. Hodges is the mother of three – all of whom were at the program Sunday afternoon – Jessica, 14, a high school freshman; Darius, 16, a high school junior; and Steven, 19, a sophomore playing football at Tuskegee University.
Mrs. Hodges is a member of Freewill Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, where she is a member of the Voices of Praise and Mass Choirs.