Churches hold "roots" celebration with African, African-American neighbors

March 6th, 2008

By NiCarla Friend 
Contributing Writer 
Release on Receipt

Contact: Ed Mullins, Center for Community-Based Partnerships, 205-246-3334,

Holy Spirit and St. Francis Catholic churches joined forces for their 16th Annual African and African American Heritage Celebration during African American History Month.

The event, which dates to 1993, was held at St. Francis Catholic Church on the UA campus. Its purpose is to give members of the Tuscaloosa community who are natives of present-day African countries and Tuscaloosa area African Americans the opportunity to join with the members of the two churches and others by worshipping and dining together.

The celebration was organized to improve race relationships on the UA campus. Now the event brings different ethnic groups together for an event that starts with a performance by various choirs followed by a Mass and concludes with a feast where African and African American dishes are served.

Native Nigerians Dr. Yomi Wilcox and her husband, Tony Ojo, prepared all of the African dishes. From the first celebration, participants have used ingredients originally brought to the Americas by slaves.  

The preparation of one of the dishes, moi-moi, begins with removal, one at a time, of the eyes of black-eyed peas. The peas are then blended with corned beef and onions. Curry, cayenne and other seasonings are added. The mixture is then poured into packets of aluminum foil and cooked for approximately five hours. Another dish, obe ila, is a spinach and okra soup that is a descendent of gumbo, which comes from gombo, an African term for okra. obe iresi, jollof rice and adiye (stewed chicken) also appeared on the menu.  

This year's event, on Feb. 23, attracted over 160 people. "The [dinner] is an educational time for the community. A lot of people don't realize that a lot of the dishes we eat here originated from Africa," says Mary Snow, a member of Holy Spirit Church who plays an instrumental part in the celebration. She has helped cook at each celebration since the first one.  

Dr. Linda Dover, retired English professor from Stillman College and co-organizer, said the dinner would not be possible without the strong support from the two pastors, Reverends Gerald Holloway (St. Francis) and Jerry Deasey (Holy Spirit) and their respective church communities. "The food, the fellowship, and the people create the warm ambiance," she said.  

Dr. Estelle Ryan Clavelli, associate director of Community Education at the Center for Community-Based Partnerships at the University, found an opportunity at the dinner to announce the possibility of Tuscaloosa forming a sister-city relationship with Sunyani, Ghana, in West Africa. This would be the third sister city of Tuscaloosa. The others are Narashino in Japan and Schorndorf in Germany.  

By becoming a sister-city, Sunyani would begin formal exchanges with Tuscaloosa and continue to receive University of Alabama students who travel there during the summer months.  

The Tuscaloosa's Sister City Commission would welcome official visitors from Sunyani at a later date to determine future opportunities. Additional information about the exchange is available from Lisa Keyes, director of the Sister City Commission. She may be reached at 205-469-2183.