The granddaughter of one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen will make a presentation Saturday during an open house at a historically black church in Sykesville to start Black History Month and to honor those who came before and the history of the church.
White Rock Independent Methodist Episcopal Church’s open house will highlight a presentation entitled 'Life Lessons in Leadership from a Tuskegee Airmen: Our Attitude Determines Our Altitude." The presentation will be given by church member Clayonia Colbert-Dorsey, a descendant of William A. Colbert, a Tuskegee Airman.
“My grandfather didn’t really talk about the fact that he was a Tuskegee Airman,” said Colbert-Dorsey. “He had kept all his original papers — he had light records, his graduation program from flight school — and I was intrigued that he just had them in a big box. So, I actually got non-degradable binders and page protectors and I organized all his paperwork for him. Then I just became intrigued with telling the story and keeping the story alive and I have gone out to talk to people about it.”
The Tuskegee Airmen comprised a U.S. fighter squadron during World War II. They were the first African American military pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps and they were collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Star in 2007.
The open house, at 6300 White Rock Road, will be held from 1 to 4 p.m., with the presentation starting at about 1:30 p.m. Colbert-Dorsey has conducted this presentation before, even outside of her church, to keep her grandfather’s memory alive.
Colbert also passed on his values and sense of community to his great-granddaughter, Aynia Dorsey, the current Miss Maryland International.
“He was very big on community involvement, giving back,” said Dorsey. “So, those are the values that he’s instilled in me is that no matter what you’re going through, what’s happening, just still keep pushing, keep going; don’t forget to get back to your community because that’s where your roots are, what made you who you are.”
According to Dorsey, her mom, brother and herself commute from Montgomery County, about a 45-minute drive, to worship at White Rock.
The church has done something in association with Black History Month every year since 1976. At the open house, soup and sandwiches will be served, a few hymns associated with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s will be sung and there will be a question-and-answer session following the presentation, which should last between 45 minutes and one hour.
Colbert-Dorsey said the church is in a period of revitalization and is trying to promote growth by reaching out to the community.
The church was organized and deeded to the church trustees in 1868 and constructed between 1868 and 1869. The church started as a haven by and for freed slaves to worship. People made their way from Johnsville, Sykesville and Cooksville to go to White Rock. Descendants of those freed slaves still worship at White Rock, according to Dorsey.
The church aims to connect with the community to bring more visibility and vitality to the church.
“We’ve got a long-standing history, there’s community-building we want to do and in order to keep us alive for the next 150 years, we’ve got to bring people in who are committed to the same kind of vision and believe the history is important to maintain,” said Colbert-Dorsey, noting the popularity of their bi-weekly barbecue that runs from late spring through early fall. “We are in a situation where we have sort of more older members, as opposed to younger members.
"So, we were just thinking of ways to be able to get people to recognize, ‘Hey, there’s this church, we have a historic significance because we’re 151 years old, we’ve been formed by freed slaves and we still feel like we have vitality left in us and are looking for people to partner with us.’”
Dorsey has noticed the difference in the ages within the congregation but said it is the job of the younger generation to keep the church going.
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“As a young person, the dynamic is definitely interesting. It’s me and a couple of my cousins where we’re probably the youngest members in the church,” said Dorsey. “So, sometimes, I would say there are different ideas or opinions on how things should be done but I think that at the end of the day, for me, what keeps me coming back is that family tie but also not wanting the church to die out. Still trying to come up with new activities, ways of engaging people just to not only have people continue to come back but also bringing people in.”
They hold events like homecoming to bring former members of the church to return home to worship and remember those before them. It is important to the congregation that the legacy and history go on.
“Bringing people together, sharing the history of the church, having first-hand witness in flesh and blood of the offspring of those who actually planted the church where it currently sits — I think those kinds of lessons are important reminders to those who are still there of what we stand for and why we stand for and why it’s important to be able to continue the legacy," said Colbert-Dorsey.
Members of the church also honor those before them by taking care of the cemetery that surrounds the church, where about 200 church members have been buried dating back to the 1800s, according to Colbert-Dorsey. One of the church’s annual events, Cemetery Day, is set as a fundraiser to keep up with the costs of maintenance.
It is the sense of family and history that keeps Dorsey worshiping at White Rock.
“[White Rock] signifies family. It’s a small church, not that many people, and everyone knows everyone,” said Dorsey. “For me, it’s just the connection to my heritage and roots, but I think its important to maintain and keep going and still be active participants.”
To celebrate Black History Month, the church will hold a soul food dinner on Feb. 29 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., a pancake supper on Feb. 25 from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will host a group of children from an after school tutoring program that is held at the colored school house in Sykesville to do essays on figures in black history, to be held on Feb. 23 at 11 a.m.