By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
Pride in Bayside's black heritage filled the Community Baptist Church Friday as the 75-year-old institution celebrated Black History Month with songs, prayer, dance and storytelling.
The chapel was packed with Baysiders young and old who commemorated their history by reading biographies of black leaders from abolitionist orator and editor Frederick Douglass to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, poetry by Maya Angelou and swaying to the rousing melodies of the church's Mass Choir.
“In order to know where you're going, you must know from where you came,” said Charlene Williams, who supervised the youth fellowship.
The children performed high-energy dance routines in the aisles as the Church Gospel Praise Dancers.
Community Baptist Church has been an anchor for Bayside's black population since its founding. Today the black population in Bayside is about 2.3 percent of all residents.
“There are many generations of family in this church,” said Loretta Napier, a social services representative at the church and a community activist.
Several of the older people in the audience had been interviewed for “Bayside Was a Wilderness Then-Voices From the Black Community…Revisited,” the oral history exhibit of the Bayside Historical Society on display at Fort Totten.
Napier, a historical society board member, acknowledged worshipers who were interviewed for the exhibit chronicling the lives of the early black residents of Bayside, when it was mostly rural and “chickens would wake you up in the morning.”
Carol Dickerson, a granddaughter of the church's Deacon Alexander Lloyd, who helped lay the bricks for the building decades ago, played a tape recording for the congregation of her grandfather singing since he was too ill to attend Friday's event.
The church also honored local black leaders, such as Mandingo Tshaka, president of the Bayside-Clear Spring Council.
Tshaka, an activist who stared down drug dealers in the early 1980's and has fought to ensure the fair application of zoning laws in the neighborhood, also had a career as a Broadway singer.
Michelle Woodard, a graduate of Bayside High School who became New York State's first black woman Supreme Court judge in 2000, was introduced to loud applause by the congregation.
Woodard, who serves on the bench in Nassau County, recounted her experiences attending the newly desegregated high school in the late 1960s.
“Many of the students were not expecting us in such large numbers,” said Woodard. “They did not want us, necessarily.”
Despite the difficulties, Woodard said she got a good education at Bayside High School and encouraged the children in the audience not to let anyone stand in the way of their dreams.
“Justice comes in all shades,” she said. “If I can do it, you can do it.”
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.