The Order of the Eastern Star lead the processional. Photos by Vivian Shipe

By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — Go back and get what we left behind….this was the meaning of the African word spoken by Ronni Chandler, keynote speaker for the Knoxville Emancipation Proclamation Service held on New Year’s Day.

Hosted by the Knoxville NAACP at the historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church ; the crowd who had

l-r; Rev. Harold Middlebrook, Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie, and Keynote Speaker Ronni Chandler
Photo submitted

gathered to remember the day the slaves were freed , listened as Chandler boldly and accurately broke down the history and issued a challenge. Her words were so clear and memorable, even the young people in attendance were able to repeat much of what she spoke into the atmosphere.

Even before she opened her mouth, the atmosphere was charged as she and other community leaders were led into the sanctuary by the Prince Hall Free Masons and the Order of the Eastern Star, black brotherhood organizations established in 1784 and 1874 .

Chandler spoke of the need to go back and fetch the mindset of freedom. She called out many names, among them Tubman, Dubuois, Sojourner, all to remind the people that a physical body may be enslaved but the mind can still be free. She also spoke of the great treasure of being free, owning ones self and the right to vote.

She then painted a verbal and visual history of the years following Emancipation: Jim Crow laws, prison chain gangs, even the rise and fall of Freedman savings and loan.

She spoke of the wealth gap in America, strongly reminding the people that it is a myth that poor people made themselves poor. She spoke of the need for community engagement and service.

She stirred the crowd by  sharing seven principles from the strategies used by those who

Rep. Rick Staples and community leader Juanita Usher Cannon were also on program.

set up the Freedman Bank stressing the need to go back and begin to use those lessons left behind.

As she closed, she issued a challenge to the people, young and old: our faith carries us, we have each been equipped by God to make a difference, you lose nothing by sharing your light, each generation must step up and do your part.

Her final words as she took her seat to a thunderous ovation:

What will YOU do in 2020?

What will YOU do tommorow?


The mindset of Freedom!