Lakeland’s Embry AME Church aims for a brighter future
By Pierce Panagakos
The Embry AME Church has faced challenges over its many years in College Park’s historically Black neighborhood of Lakeland, but now the congregation is dancing in the streets.
On Sept. 25, members of the church joined with other city residents and broke out their choreographed moves, dancing to religiously themed remixes of popular songs.
Tonia James, one of the organizers, enthusiastically promoted the event. “We just want to have the community come out and enjoy themselves. … we just want to have a fun time, a fun experience for anybody that’s coming out — little children, the seniors, the adults, the youth — anybody that’s participating, we would love for them to come out and to learn some dance steps.”
Karen Stewart, who owns Jesse’s Soul Line Dance, collaborated with James to organize the event, which was co-sponsored by the College Park Arts Exchange (CPAE). Melissa Sites, CPAE’s director, led CPAE’s participation.
In the 1960s, the City of College Park targeted Lakeland, an African-American community that was established in the late 1800s, for redevelopment. Residents were told they would have to sell their homes to the city and leave. The city then destroyed these homes, and the families that once lived in Lakeland did not return to the neighborhood for generations.
On June 9, 2020, the City of College Park passed a resolution renouncing systemic racism and declaring the city’s support of Black lives. The mayor and council voted to “acknowledge and apologize for our city’s past history of oppression, particularly with regards to the Lakeland community, and actively seek opportunities for accountability and truth-telling about past injustice, and aggressively seek opportunities.” A steering committee met in late September to begin a discussion about how the city can move to implement restorative justice.
Rev. Carrington Carter, the head pastor at Embry AME, reflected on the history of the church and how the congregation may move forward. “I’m very informed about the restorative justice act … the church has weathered a lot of storms as far as its history, we are about to celebrate 118 years in October, next month. The church has been relatively strong since that time, and we’ve been trying to have an impact not only in Lakeland but also in the greater College Park community, and also Prince George’s County.”
Embry AME recently issued the church’s vision statement for Lakeland, which recognizes the community’s inherent historic importance and place within the larger College Park Community. In these words, the vision statement also underscores the renewed sense of dignity and purpose that restorative justice has signaled: “The community is strong, healthy, safe, and inclusive both economically and socially. The history and culture of the community and its members are honored, nurtured, and celebrated. Lifelong vitality and learning are supported. Lakeland is physically and institutionally interconnected with the larger community.”