FORT PIERCE, Fla. — At Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Pierce, Pastor Kenneth Johnson said he's taking action.
"It's not about religion. It's not about the church. This is a matter of presenting history as history has occurred," he said. "We felt a call to action based on the Legislature's efforts to deny us the right to teach history as it occurred."
He said his congregation is learning Black history through hour-long video classes at the church now.
"We are spearheading an effort to educate people," Johnson said.
He said it's a response to the state's new policies schools must follow when it comes to African-American history.
"And for others to sit in seats of power, elected officials to sit in seats of power, and then regulate for us what we can and cannot teach, we felt that that was kind of disrespectful and, as I said, condescending, but I'm thankful because it became a call to action and allowed us to do, honestly, what I think we should have been doing all along," he said. "We should have never stopped teaching our history."
Faith in Florida, a coalition of churches in the state, has a tool kit available now for Black history teachings. Studying is not limited to Zooms, according to Johnson, who also pointed to Bible studies, Sunday school lessons and sermons.
"We know we have hundreds of churches now that are using it, and we expect more to be using it because there is a real push for it now," Tony Drayton, pastor of St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Riviera Beach said.
Drayton is also a community organizer for Faith in Florida.
Johnson said to teach history now means a return to history, of sorts.
"Historically our Black churches have always been centers for information," he said. "Many of our churches, Friendship (Missionary Baptist Church) included, were once used as the learning place for our communities. When they had no schools, when they had no buildings, they would learn at the church. So now, ironically, history is repeating the need for that to happen again."
The lessons at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church on Avenue E will take place on Wednesday nights for the foreseeable future. They hope to add it indefinitely. You can contact the church or yours for more information on the Zoom calls.