Speakers at Adel’s 2nd Annual Juneteenth event on Saturday, June 17, 2023, agreed that the federal holiday is a wonderful time to celebrate gains in freedom for Black Americans, but they said much more needs to be done for them to be truly free.
Concerned Citizens of Cook County sponsored the observance of Juneteenth 2023 at Jim Battle Community Park.
Speakers for Saturday morning’s opening ceremony were Dr. Treva Gear; Pastor David Johnson, who explained the origins of Juneteenth while noting that “the struggle continues” for Blacks to gain full justice in society; County Commission Chair Debra Robinson-McKenney; Adel Councilwoman Celestine Hayes; and Leonard Hundley, former Cook County NAACP president, who urged more to join the civil rights organization.
Dr. Gear reiterated Pastor Johnson’s acronym BAS, “Believe; you can Achieve; then to Succeed.” She and the other speakers emphasized environmental justice – as it pertains to some local industries that impact minority communities – and the need for voters’ education, to register and turn out at the polls, and to run for political offices.
Dr. Gear introduced Servant Wesley Smith Jr., the event’s main speaker. She said his life story offers such a tremendous testimony that it deserves to be shared, along with his message of “Freedom from, Freedom to, and Freedom to be”:
Servant Wesley (as he introduces himself) has been diligently serving our Lord Jesus Christ since 1987. He was blessed to grow up in a family of believers as his father pastured a Church in Hallandale, Fla.; he graduated from McArthur High School in Hollywood, Fla., in 1975.
He strayed away from the Word of God at an early age and lived a life of drugs, abuse, and crime. This lifestyle landed him in prison, facing the electric chair on first degree murder charges, but through God’s Grace and Mercy, he was delivered from the electric chair into his mother’s living room chair. He recalled that while in prison, as the result of a relationship with the Lord, “I was free in my mind, and I was free in my spirit.”
Servant Wesley remained faithful to the Word of God and became a faithful Minister at Faith Assembly of Christ in Capital Heights, Maryland (pastored by Pastor Mitchell Way), where he ministered on Tuesday nights to a men’s support group (I Am My Brother’s Keeper), founded by Jesus Christ, for seven years.
Servant Wesley was ordained as an Elder at Faith Assembly of Christ on Oct. 15, 2006. Servant Wesley held Bible studies every Thursday nights at the CC4 Halfway House in Washington, D.C., for eight years, where he has received honors for his dedication in service. He also received an award of appreciation for eight years of commitment at Lorton’s Central Facility Prison, in Lorton, Virginia.
Servant Wesley has completed five years of studies at Givens Bible College in Washington, D.C., where he received his degree of completion in Biblical Studies. He has received his Associate’s Degree in Biblical Counseling at Trinity Seminary Theological College in Newburg, Indiana, where he has also received his Bachelors of Arts Degree in Pastoral Ministry. He is also a Certified Recovery Support Specialist.
Servant Wesley would be the first to say that the anointing is neither in Seminary School nor Degrees, “but because God has anointed him to serve people, he is led to continue in his studies to show himself approved by God, to become that workman that is not ashamed of the work that he is doing for the Lord.”
Servant Wesley has authored two books. The first one, Grace and Mercy, shares the life story of his path to redemption. His second book is After Death, Then What? Are You Ready to Die?
Servant Wesley now resides in Valdosta, Georgia, with his wife Rosalind. He has seven children, eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, who currently reside in Florida, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. His mother is Addie Mitchell of Adel.
Servant Wesley worked at Deerfield Beach Middle School, Deerfield Beach High School, Broward County Jail, and out of his home, mentoring at-risk students.
Servant Wesley was an Associate Pastor at Koinonia Worship Center & Village in Pembroke Park, Fla. (Senior Pastor Eric H. Jones Jr.). Servant Wesley and his wife are currently members of New Life Ministries in Valdosta, Ga.
Servant Wesley was a member of the Broward County Juvenile Justice Advisory Board. “His reputation precedes him as he travels about ministering the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” his biography states. “As God has called him to unite churches together to provide for the total man, he has been called to share the love of Christ to whosoever will. He believes there is ‘One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One Body, One Spirit’ (Eph. 4:4-5).”
During his speech for Juneteenth, Servant Wesley said that while the pursuit of justice is very important, spiritual improvement should be sought to build up homes and families and rid communities of drugs and violence. Communities must be taken back by “godly force,” he said, noting that the Lord “is watching us and our thoughts.” He explained to the gathering that Adel and other American communities are a “foxhole,” because “we’re in spiritual warfare, family.”
According to Juneteenth.com, “Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
“Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.”
On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
Saturday’s event featured a free lunch catered by Anthony Turner (Big ANT BBQ) and music provided by DJ Nas. Children enjoyed a bouncy house and a slide.