Putting Unity in Community Part 2: New Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church, Oak Park Temple members visit National Museum of African American History and Culture

Two local religious groups are making Chicago Proud! Members of Oak Park Temple and New Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church in West Garfield Park recently traveled together to Washington D.C. Tuesday, we saw their experience at the National Holocaust Museum

Even though the first day was long and in some cases emotionally draining, many members of the group stayed up late talking about their experience at the Holocaust Museum, the commonalities within their cultures and the anticipation of what they'd discover at the African American Museum.

With the Washington Monument overlooking its symbolic structure, the 2-year-old National Museum of African American History and Culture is still the hottest ticket in town! The group started with a prayer outside the entrance.

The tour began in the lower level with the origins of the Atlantic slave trade, working through the Colonial era, antebellum south, Civil War and freedom. With authentic artifacts and graphic images, it was not an easy exhibit to see.

The atrocities at the Holocaust Museum were very difficult for the group, but they found the exhibits at the African American History Museum just as disturbing for different reasons.

"You kind of feel as an African-American and knowing your own history, why would someone want to do that to your own ancestors, but then you look and see that it's not only just your ancestors, it's also a whole other race of people," said Warren Riley, executive pastor of New Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church.

"I walked into one of the railroad cars that was used, stuffed with people to transport them to the concentration camps...and then the next day I go to the African American Museum and see the schematic drawings of the slave ships which were large and in the hulls, the bottom of the ships were packed, stuffed like the railroad car," said Mark Blesoff, member of the Oak Park Temple.

"I was standing in line at the Emmett Till exhibit and a guy comes up and asks me what exhibit is this? And I'm like, this is the Emmett Till Exhibit and he was like, 'Who is Emmett Till?" said Major Purcell, member of the New Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church. "How can you not know who Emmett Till is, but it made me remember when we went to the Holocaust museum the day before and how much I did not know about the Holocaust."

The upper floors are a celebration of African-American culture - highlighting decades of music, film, television and pop-culture, including Chuck Berry's Cadillac Eldorado! That evening the group had open and honest dialogue about the these two communities and cultures have more in common than not.

The final stop of the trip was to Sunday Morning service at Ebenezer AME Church in Maryland.

"I was pretty blown away by the welcome we received as a congregation, that was pretty amazing!" said Oak Park Temple member Sue Blaine.

So welcome, in fact, Rabbi Weiss was asked to share the pulpit for a bit! The takeaway from this trip?

"It's not about changing the world, it's about changing one person at a time. And changing hearts and opening hearts," said Rabbi Max Weiss.

"To be empathetic, to get into somebody else's story and their narrative I think goes a long way toward building understanding," said Pastor Marshall Hatch.

Both group agreed they wanted to continue to build relationships between the church and the synagogue, but to let things develop organically - not forced. In fact, the Sunday after the horrific events in Pittsburg several members from New Mt. Pilgrim came to a special peace and prayer service at Oak Park Temple in unity.
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