Windom “BJ” Jones III’s tenor soared as he sang “God Is Able” for 90 guests Sunday during the 75th Illinois NAACP Convention prayer breakfast at the i wireless Center, Moline.
People rose to their feet, clapping, obviously thrilled with the lyrics and the young musician whose voice is bigger than he is.
BJ, 14, a student at Glenview Middle School and member of Mount Zion Baptist Church, East Moline, began singing when he was 2. He joked his mom “threw” him as a barely-able-to-talk toddler into the choir. He has performed at numerous venues in the Quad-Cities and out-of-state, hoping that his gift inspires listeners to find courage to get through difficult situations.
“I get to share my gift that someone might be blessed,” he said. “That’s all that really matters to me, doing what I need to do to serve God.”
He admits he isn’t formally trained as a singer, but his vibrant vocals may well represent the voice of the future for the Illinois NAACP. The three-day conference wrapped up Sunday, and the event was highlighted by special recognition of veterans, an inspirational talk by freedom rider Diane Nash and a focus on social, economic and educational issues of concern to the African-American community. About 300 people attended the conference.
Affirming America’s Promise was the prayer breakfast’s theme, and the Rev. Malene Johnson highlighted promises made to citizens in American history. She is staff pastor at Third Baptist Church of Chicago and a graduate of McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago.
“Some of you in this room are aware that we have not always been thought of as citizens of the United States,” she said.
Embedded in the Declaration of Independence is the statement that people are created equal and they are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” quoted Johnson. The Statue of Liberty stands as a promise to “huddled masses” yearning to breathe free in America. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizenship to people who are born or naturalized in the United States.
“These are among the promises most critical to America,” Johnson said.
These promises, however, have received a mixed reception as they were upheld, disregarded, heralded and ignored. Descendants of blacks brought involuntarily to the United States were not recognized as free until the final years of the Civil War. In the decades that followed, laws were created to prevent them from enjoying all the rights of citizenship.
“We have a responsibility to be ... a voice for people that don’t have a voice, that we are imbued with power via the Holy Spirit to speak truth to power,” she said.