Effort to save Mt. Zion A.M.E. continues at RISE events

Published 6:08 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2017

By Rahn Fudge

Special to The Post-Searchlight

An idea born more than a decade ago with little to no budget and nothing more than faith and a native son’s dream to give it life turns 15 years old this February thanks also to the uncompromising efforts of local community volunteers.

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The last weekend in February, wrapping up National Black Month (BHM), is claimed each year by a local community organization and has been repeatedly endorsed over the years by the Mayor’s office as the so-called Phoenix Affaire RISE! Weekend in Bainbridge is set with three days of events scheduled from February 24-26th.  This year’s theme is “ Together We Rise!”

The local organization, known as the Phoenix Affaire Group, will reach a significant milestone this year by coming together for the 15th consecutive year to host local celebrations recognizing and honoring the often-times unsung contributions of African-Americans throughout the history of America.

Weekend long events will kick-off on Friday, February 24th with a special Opening Night Photography, Artifacts & Oral History exhibit and a Reception Gala featuring well-noted local black historian Jack Hadley, Founder of the area’s most preeminent local black history museum in nearby Thomasville, Georgia.  He returns for the third consecutive year to reinforce the importance of preserving local black history in rural Southwest Georgia and to share how his humble beginnings of trying for years to save the stories and rich local black history in Thomas County will now reach classrooms in local public schools there.

Tickets for this opening night reception gala and exhibit are $15, advance; $20, door.  Plans for day two of the local Black History Month RISE! Weekend on Saturday, February 25th starts with the weekend’s annual Community Entrepreneurs’ Sidewalk Sale & Farmers’ Market stretching along a section of historic downtown Bainbridge (on N. Broad Street between Water Street & MLK Jr. Dr.) which was once a thriving and bustling black business district during the 1960s and 1970s.  This event is free and open to the public and will feature a mini food court and a chance for the public to shop a variety of items on display by mostly African-American freelance artists and entrepreneurs.  This event gets underway by 8 a.m. and lasts until roughly 2 p.m. The sidewalk sale may be cancelled without advance notice in case of rain or bad weather.

Later Saturday evening, the RISE! Weekend’s ‘centerpiece’ event which is also the catalyst for the the three days of Black History Month celebrations in Bainbridge, is the long-running Phoenix Affaire fashion-theatre and supper club show created more than 30 years ago by Bainbridge native and 1979 Bainbridge High School graduate, Rahn d. Fudge, who now resides in San Francisco, California.  “This is my annual give back to the community at-large and to a community of people who gave me so much inspiration and hope when growing up there”, says Fudge.  Tickets for the community fashion-theatre and supper club show are $25, advance; $30, door and include a prix fixe dinner.  VIP tickets also available ($40).  The show is set to take place at the Firehouse Arts Center & Gallery (Callahan Room) on Saturday, February 25th at 7p.m.

Plans for the final day of BHM celebrations in Bainbridge will, naturally, end on a high gospel note as organizers plan to stage their annual “Gospel in the Park” event on Sunday, February 26th inside Willis Park on the Square in downtown from 4-7 p.m.  A number of local bands, musicians, singers and choirs will take to the gazebo to help bring the Phoenix Affaire RISE! Weekend 2017 to a hand-clapping, tambourine shaking, foot-stomping and rousing religious end.  This event is also free and open to the public and will carry a side message about the importance of black healthcare and wellness.

Additionally, throughout the three-day celebration, the RISE! Weekend’s creator will—as he’s done in previous years—continue to raise awareness and push for community support to save a century-old, local abandoned black church from demise and its historical significance from being continually overlooked.

Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E) church located just minutes from Bainbridge and practically hidden off a country dirt road is said to be the first and oldest-known house of worship for African-Americans in the region dating as far back as the 1850s. The abandoned, dilapidated, and baron-looking white wooden structure is reported to be well over 150 years old —and counting.  Yet, it has never been designated a local or state historic site by local religious, city or community leaders nor has any formal attempts ever been made to declare it a national historic landmark by it’s rightful owner, the A.M.E. church.  “In my opinion,  the state of Mt. Zion is so indicative of what’s happening with a lot of local black history in the region. Unfortunately, it’s rotting and dying away with no trace of these history-making artifacts and stories to provide an accurate historical narrative, perspective and blueprint for future generations—especially young black youth—about their local heritage,” Fudge notes.

For more information about how you can help with saving Mt. Zion or to get more information about volunteering or participating in this year’s 15th Annual Black History Month Phoenix Affaire RISE! Weekend, please call 1.229.205. 6210 or email rahn.fudge@gmail.com