Ellis Prince Is Not Black
Ellis Prince is not Black.
The congregation at The Gallery Church of Baltimore where he serves as Pastor is not predominately African-American. He doesn’t shout when he preaches–his teaching style is convincingly, conversational. And even though he is a young pastor, who seems more far comfortable in jeans and un-tucked polo shirt than a suit and tie–I wouldn’t take Ellis to be a big fan of hip-hop. In fact, he has never even given me ‘a cool handshake.’ Ellis Prince is White…
So, why is he included in a film about black churches addressing a disease that statistically appears to be an African and African American issue? He asked me the same question.
When I first met Ellis and learned about his vision to host and coordinate ‘City Uprising,’ a citywide HIV-Testing event across Baltimore, I questioned his motives. His church was new. He wasn’t a native of Baltimore but had relocated there after a period of living in New York. Could this be a move of self-promotion?
“It will not take you long after talking with Ellis Prince to recognize his sincerity of purpose. He wholly accepts that even the best partnerships can result in a painful give-and-take to acheive their goal.”
According to the Jacques Initiative an HIV treatment program sponsored by the University of Maryland, in Baltimore, “City Uprising is an annual city-wide event to test hundreds of people. Over 500 volunteers have been engaged in the program. Volunteers include clients of the JACQUES Initiative, students, housewives, professionals and members of the faith-based community from Baltimore city as well as outside of the city. Volunteers’ roles include HIV testing, education, providing psychosocial and spiritual support, distributing snacks and logistics and coordination for testing.” But that is just a part of what City Uprising is. It is a 3-day public service event, coordinated by members of The Gallery Church denomination across the country. The entire event includes HIV testing on the first day and community services at a public school and a public park, subsequently, on the second and third days. Baptist churches have revival season. The Gallery Church has it’s ‘City Uprising.’ That’s just what they do.
What makes this particular event so unique is that Ellis Prince took his vision for City Uprising to Derek Spencer, a son of the traditional black church experience, and also Executive Director of the Jacques Initiative at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. Together, with Amy Lang, former Executive Director of Hope Springs HIV/AIDS Ministry of Baltimore, they formed an exceptional partnership that mobilized 14 area churches—including Black and Latino churches– mosques, synagogues and community-based organizations across the city, to test over 1500 people and link people living with HIV to care during the first full-day of City Uprising.
It will not take you long after talking with Ellis Prince to recognize his sincerity of purpose. He wholly accepts the reality that even the best partnerships can result in a painful give-and-take to acheive their goal. But his singular mission is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. “We believe if you propel the church you prosper the city,” says Pastor Ellis Prince during their 2010 Planning meeting, ‘At some point we have to move from being neighbors to friends, ‘And when we are friends, at some point, we may even have to lay down our physical lives for one another.’ A hush fell over the room of mostly clinicians and public health officials, before Ellis Prince would continue to speak.
In the spring of 2010, one group of Americans stormed the streets of Washington, DC and many other cities. They were angry about the past and fearful for their future, wanting desperately to prevent the federal government from giving 30 million Americans access to affordable health care. That same summer, on July 21, 2010, I witnessed a much smaller –and significantly younger, more racially diverse group– canvas the streets of Baltimore in groups of ten, to be a living symbol of their faith. It was more than 90 degrees outside. Their mission was to share a kind word and push strangers, with whom they shared nothing in common beyond their humanity, to get tested and treated for HIV.
Pastor Ellis Prince, and almost every one of the five hundred volunteers, that joined his uprising, are examples of our greatest potential. Their partnership mobilized people of all races, including the saved and the spiritually indifferent –all working together in the areas of greatest need. Their work represents that fantastic, hopeful America we all like to think we live in when we lay in bed at night—believing the morning will come without incident and the new day will be infinitely better than the one the one that came before it.
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