The Power of Prayer Starts the African American Festival

By Asia Nail
The Truth Reporter

Excitement filled the air this past weekend as the Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union hosted its 18th Annual Prayer Breakfast and African American Festival.

“This festival started with the power of prayer,” recalled Suzette Cowell, Founder, CEO, and Treasurer of TUFCU, as she introduced the prayer breakfast Master of Ceremonies, Bishop Larry Mack of Greater Dreams Church.

Bishop reminded all in attendance that the power of prayer is a force that transcends boundaries, unites hearts, and ignites transformation. Prayer holds the capacity to bring people together. Such was the case when the leaders of Toledo City, along with pastors from various backgrounds, gathered to pray this past Friday.

This year’s prayer breakfast was hosted in the beautiful Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion. The stage was set, anticipation buzzing in the air as the vibrant lineup of speakers prepared to take the podium.

Adam M. Levine, the Edward Drummond and Florence Scott Libbey President, Director, and CEO, along with Fletcher Word, our very own esteemed publisher, welcomed the attendees with open arms and warm smiles.

As the much-anticipated weekend of the African American Festival dawned, a veil of clouds draped the sky. Nature seemed to conspire against the festivities, threatening to dampen the spirits of those eagerly awaiting the celebration of culture and unity. But the organizers, armed with unwavering determination and resilience, refused to let the rain be the end of their vision.

Suzette Cowell with Bishop-elect Jerry Boose of Second Baptist Church and Pastor Tim Pettaway of Walk the Word Church

Cowell went on to explain that most know the story of how Pastor Patricia Sullivan (who regrettably passed away in early June) confirmed her thoughts to start our city’s African American Festival in the middle of a sermon almost two decades ago, sharing, “She walked right up to me and whispered ‘Whatever God told you to do, you gotta do it.’ And that is how the festival was born.”

Cowell reminded the 200 Prayer Breakfast guests that 18 years ago Toledo’s Festival started with the amount of people in that very room and has now, due to the power of prayer and teamwork, has grown to thousands of participants enjoying festivities from all around the globe.

“Every year we pray for good weather, but this year I admittedly almost threw in the towel,” shared Cowell. “After 18 years of fervent prayer, tireless efforts, and nervous anticipation, I found myself at a crossroads.

“Then I heard a sermon about the woman in the Bible who stood bent over for 18 years. I had never heard this scripture before. In her 18th year the woman met Jesus, believed and stood up. I knew God was speaking to me and that I could not quit ”

The forecast for rain, like a relentless adversary, threatened to ruin festivities. Cowell, determined to persevere, made a last minute call to Lucas County Commissioner, Pete Gerken. “He came through for us right away,” explained a relieved Cowell. “We don’t have to worry about the rain, family day and the concert have been moved to the Glass City Center!”

As the room settled into an atmosphere of reverence, Amanda Heron and Arthur Bishop, two gifted musicians, graced the stage. Amanda’s sweet voice, ushered in the Holy Spirit, as Bishop’s saxophone filled the room with smooth sounds, inviting everyone to immerse themselves in the serenity and beauty of the moment.

Host Adam Levine, Director TMA

Bishop-Elect Jerry Boose, from the Second Baptist Church, stepped forward, his presence exuding strength and humility. With heartfelt sincerity, he led the gathering in opening prayers, calling upon the divine to bless the proceedings and infuse the hearts of all those in attendance with wisdom, grace, and unity.

The atmosphere was thick with a sense of sacredness as Sister Mary Gregory, from the Sisters of Notre Dame, offered a welcome prayer. Her words, a gentle embrace of gratitude and inclusion, touched the depths of each soul present, reminding them of the interconnectedness that binds them all as brothers and sisters.

Elder Alisa Key, from the People’s Baptist Church, then led a powerful prayer for the city and its leaders. Her voice resonated with passion and conviction as she called upon the heavens to shower blessings upon the community, its endeavors, and the individuals who carried the weight of leadership upon their shoulders.

The baton of prayer was passed to Pastor Michael Prince from the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, who offered a heartfelt prayer for the churches. His words resonated deeply, invoking unity, growth, and spiritual nourishment for the diverse houses of worship that served as pillars of strength within the community.

Dr. Suzette R. Cowell, the esteemed CEO of TUFCU, took a moment to honor nine outstanding movers and shakers in Toledo, recognizing their tireless efforts and contributions.

The 2023 honorees are: CEO of the Social Butterfly, Donnetta Carter; Community Organizer and Non-profit Consultant Diane Gordon; Assistant to the President for Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships at the University of Toledo, Valerie Simmons-Walston;  Metroparks Toledo’s Developmental Specialist, Felica Clark, and Chief Outreach Officer, Matthew Killam; Director of Technical Operations and Construction at Buckeye Broadband, Marquisa Horton; Executive Director of the Frederick Douglass Community Association, Reggie Williams; Lucas County Administrator, Jessica Ford, and Friendship Baptist Church’s Financial Assistant, Velma Pryor.

Master of Ceremonies Bishop Larry Mack

Her prayer for both honorees and staff celebrated their achievements, while acknowledging the transformative power they bring to the city and our African American community.

Sister Maxine Young, from the Sisters of Notre Dame, continued the prayerful journey, offering a heartfelt supplication for TUFCU. Her words carried a sense of gratitude for the financial institution’s support and dedication to uplifting the community, acknowledging the divine presence in every aspect of their work.

Reverend Troy Brown, from the United Missionary Baptist Church, brought a touch of joy and festivity to the gathering as he led a prayer for the youth. With an infectious energy, he invoked blessings upon the young hearts and minds, praying for their dreams to be nurtured, their spirits to be guided, and their futures to be bright. Referring to hit single “Cool It Now” by R&B group New Edition in his prayer, Reverend Brown reminded us all that God knows all of us by name, ‘Even Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, and Mike’, as the room erupted in laughter.

First Lady Angela Savage, from Lo-Salem Baptist Church, stepped forward, her voice filled with tenderness and strength. Her prayer resonated with the collective experiences of the women present, honoring their resilience, grace, and unwavering faith. It was a moment of connection, where the power of prayer became a thread weaving together the journeys of all the remarkable women in the room.

Sister Virginity Welsh, the Pastoral Leader of St. Martin DePorres, embraced the stage, her words carrying the weight of ancestral wisdom and devotion. Her prayer for the African American Festival encapsulated the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the community. It was a plea for the festival to be a catalyst of unity, celebration, and empowerment.

As the event drew to a close, Pastor Timothy Pettaway Sr. from Walk the Word Church, took the stage for the closing prayer. His words were a melodic benediction, a final call for the blessings of the divine to shower upon each individual, carrying them forward with renewed strength, purpose, and a deep connection to the power of prayer.

Violinist Raymond Flowers IV

The room was filled with melodic tones soaring high and dipping low. It was both delicate and enchanting, as breakfast participants enjoyed a decadent spread from culinary artist Audrey Ramsey infused with the authentic sounds of Raymond Flowers IV on violin.

It was the perfect start to kick off this year’s festival.

As they say within the Body of Christ, “The prayers of the saints availeth much.” And so it was. Toledo’s 18th Annual African American Festival was a success!

Beginning at the corner of Dorr Street and North Detroit Avenue, TUFCU’s annual parade came alive last Saturday, led by community leaders, local dignitaries, and spirited performers. People lined the streets, their faces filled with anticipation and pride, as the sun peeked through the clouds. Spectators of all ages waved flags, clapped their hands, and joined in the festivities, becoming an integral part of this year’s jubilant display of African American culture.

Adorned with colorful decorations and radiant lights, the Glass City Center breathed life into the previous outdoor vision that had been cultivated over the years. Vibrant booths lined the hallways, showcasing the talents and crafts of African American artisans.  The aroma of soulful cuisine intertwined with the sounds of music, filling the space with a symphony of flavors and rhythms.

Singer Amanda Heron

The newly remodeled Glass City Center had become a sanctuary of unity, a sanctuary that defied the rain’s attempt to dampen the collective spirit.

Within the walls of the Glass City Center, the rain became a mere backdrop, a gentle reminder that sometimes life presents obstacles to test our resolve. The festival-goers embraced the change with open hearts, recognizing that the true essence of the celebration transcended any physical boundaries.

As the raindrops danced upon the windows, an irresistible blend of R&B and funk filled the venue with the soulful essence of the African American experience. Ginuwine, Freddie Jackson, the Zapp Band, and Stokely’s performances kept the crowd moving, while local comedian Kelly Williams kept the crowd bursting in laughter.

Everything unfolded exactly the way it was supposed to within the newly remodeled Glass City Center, a testament to the indomitable spirit of a community united in celebration. It was a reminder that even in the face of challenges, when hearts are filled with determination and resilience, no rain can extinguish the flame of unity and the power of prayer.

*TUFCU thanks everyone who participated and sold 4,000 tickets this year. Proceeds go toward the Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union, a community development credit union started by Suzette  Cowell in July, 1996.

The credit union serves moderate to low-income individuals within specific zip codes and helps to educate the public on financial literacy and homeownership.