Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"The Inspiration Behind the Inspiration" Rev. Diane Lewis: Reflections Upon The Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall Wynn

During the month of February, we take time to reflect upon the many and varied contributions of African American people as well as the Civil Rights Movement. The most familiar voice, by far of the Civil Rights Movement was (and remains) the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Used to inspire millions across the decades, King’s “I Have A Dream” speech rings forth as the most prominent. Are you aware, however, that a young, female preacher inspired that speech?

The Reverend Diane Lewis, Associate Minister of the Arlington Street Church of God in Akron, Ohio specializes in helping congregations and the broader community become exposed to little known facts like the above during Black History Month.

Rev. Lewis has been an associate minister at Arlington Street Church of God since 1993. She has served as Sunday School Coordinator, Teacher, Director of Educational Programming, Developer and Coordinator of “College Coming to You,” a college access program, and most recently the director of Community Outreach. In that position she conducted an annual coat give away, career fair, community garden and “Fun Day.”

Rev. Lewis is also a historian, play-writer and researcher. Additionally, she is a licensed clinical counselor. Annually, Rev. Lewis produces “This Moment in Black History,” a blended presentation which includes drama, spoken word, song and mime.

In today’s Shepastor, Rev. Lewis shares her passion for “telling the story” of Black History in general as well as a particular female preacher’s role in the Movement. She provides excerpts from a skit she recently wrote and presented, “The Inspiration Behind the Inspiration.” The skit highlights the penetrating prayer of a young civil rights worker, the Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall Wynn. With creativity, vibrancy and power, Rev Lewis’ skit illustrated the magnitude of influence Rev. Wynn’s prayer had on Dr. King.

Read further and be blessed!

Shepastor Interview with The Reverend Diane Lewis
Associate Minister, Arlington Church of God
Akron, Ohio

How was this vision of an annual Black History program birthed within you?

It has been a life long labor of love. It is a passion, a desire for people who don’t know their own history to hear it and see it unfold. Having a glimpse of their history seems to somehow empower them. There is something within all of us that calls for the learning of our past – our heritage.

African Americans can’t always point to their beginnings in their immediate or extended family. When we explore our history, we are exploring our extended family, such that their story becomes our story in a very real way. This discovery is not limited to skin color. There is something within all of us that says everybody is somebody or at least recognizes that we are all a part of a body. We have that in our Christian faith, but it also applies to the entire human race.

I can see myself in the many and varied stories of history, based not on skin color but on the story. That is what gives me strength. That is what helps me to see – that’s the power of story. There is something about story – we gain strength from one another’s testimony. We may have to dig for it like mining for gold. We find it is a treasure. Like the woman in Jesus’ parable who discovered the pearl of great price, history is a treasure. Some of it is unwritten and it is our responsibility, when we find it to tell everybody.

The celebration of Black History, is not to denigrate or negate who others are. It is more about sharing and saying, “Look at what I found.! I am discovering more of me – it doesn’t mean less of you.”

During this year’s “This Moment In Black History,” you presented a powerful skit you titled, “The Inspiration Behind the Inspiration” about an African American Female Preacher who actually, inspired Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Say something about that.

“The Inspiration behind the Inspiration,” focused upon the late Dr. Prathia Hall Wynn. I was drawn to her because of her persistence. Sometimes when you are doing things you know somehow or another that you are making a difference because God called you, but you don’t see the impact right away. That was Dr. Wynn. Her persistence inspired me.
In 1962 in Terrell County, Georgia, students gathered for a rally on the grounds of Mount Olive Baptist Church. The church had been burned down by the Ku Klux Klan. Civil Rights leaders had invited Dr. King to come and encourage the students and the broader community to continue in the battle for civil rights. During the rally, a young student named Prathia Hall was called upon to pray.

“Prathia” had garnered a reputation for being a firebrand orator. She was the daughter of a Baptist preacher. Testimonials from students at the rally declare that Prathia repeatedly intoned the phrase, “I have a dream” throughout her prayer. While we don’t have the exact words of the prayer, I imagined the words she may have said. During our skit, the performer said this prayer,

“Father God tonight just a few of your handmaid students are here today, just to say thank you. Thank you for your mercy and your grace. Thank you for how you have kept us down through the years. Even now we believe you have called us to the work that you are doing. Lord, we are not asking for justice, since mercy suits our case and though storms may rise and winds may blow, we intend to hold on.

Oh God even if I have to go by myself I am going all the way. Here I stand, I open my mouth to the Lord, I won’t turn back, NO! Lord I take my stand against the enemy of righteousness and declare, You can throw me in jail, you can burn my church to the ground, but I still have a dream. I said I have a dream and I will not be discouraged, nor will I abandon my dream. Right about now, I can see a cloud about the size of a man’s hand and I believe it is gonna rain! Let it rain God, send down water from Zion. Rain down equal education, rain down, fair housing, rain down the right to vote and rain down freedom for all! Oh God this is my hope and this is my dream. I will not stoop I will not strut, and I will not stop until this dream becomes a reality.

I – have- a- dream! Amen, Amen and Amen!”

Young Prathia had no idea of the impact she was having upon Dr. King. He was so impressed and moved by the “I have a dream” concept that he went on to incorporate the phrase into his own sermons. In later years King gave Rev. Prathia the highest compliment saying, “Prathia is one platform speaker, I just assume not follow!”

Senior Pastor Susan K. Smith, (Advent United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio) in her Washington Post article, “King’s Dream Began With a Woman Preacher,” states this about Dr. Wynn’s impact and influence upon the Civil Right’s Movement,

“Prathia Hall became a voice and a presence in the Black Church. She graduated from Temple University, and then became an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement. She joined up with freedom fighters who went South to advocate for the rights of black people to vote, and became one of its first field leaders… She later enrolled in Princeton Theological Seminary and after her father's death, was named pastor of his church in Philadelphia.”

Are you planning to offer “A Moment in Black History” in other places?

Plans are underway to reach an even wider audience with panel discussions, oratory contests, the use of local theaters and other media outlets to tell the story of many unsung and unheralded Black people.

To purchase a DVD or to invite Reverend Lewis to speak or present, please contact her at

More information about The Reverend Dr. Prathia Hall Wynn may be found by reading Pastor Karen Smith’s article at

Do you have a story to share about an “unsung” female preacher who has greatly impacted your life and the lives of others? We want to hear from you! Post a comment or send me an email at

Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,
Pastor Chris

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