By Lisa Mitchell Sennaar
During these recent difficult days, I am reminded that our foundation is as strong as our faith, our family and our community. We trust in our faith, build our family and form our community.
I had a flood of fond childhood memories about heading to church with my father, mother and brother on many Sunday mornings. I am the fifth generation of the Carroll/Jackson/Mitchell descendants to worship at Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church. Sitting with my great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins made church fun. My favorite pastor was Bishop Forrest C. Stith. His wife, Josephine Stith, was a phenomenal educator who happened to be my first-grade teacher at Hilton Elementary School # 21.
Lisa Mitchell Sennaar (Courtesy Photo)
Sharp Street was our family church. My great grandparents and grandparents were married and memorialized at Sharp Street. My cousin had a beautiful wedding there in 2008. My father’s homegoing service was held there in 2012 and his brother’s in 2015.
As a little girl, I heard the elders say that Sharp Street was not just important to our family, but to our community. It was the first African Methodist congregation in Baltimore. Frederick Douglass was a member in the 1830s and in 1864, he came to the church to deliver his “Friendly Letter to the People of Maryland” speech, challenging Maryland to free its slaves. Sharp Street opened a “School for Negroes” in 1867, which gave birth to Centenary Biblical Institute, now known as Morgan State University. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall attended Sharp Street with his parents and grandparents, and his grandfather was a trustee. Sharp Street was the site of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) 1936 convention. In the late 1960s, the church also allowed the Black Panther Party to organize a breakfast program in their basement.
I was ushered into the community at an early age. My father was sworn into the Maryland Legislature in 1963, the year I was born. The elders in my family were leaders in the local, state and national NAACP. I was entered in NAACP baby contests, attended my father’s monthly People Democratic Action Organization (PDAO) meetings, and grew up spending the spring and the fall volunteering in political campaigns.
I went to church and many holiday family dinners and participated in all things public with my father’s family and spent Sundays after church with my mother’s family. We didn’t just go for holidays. We went to Grandma and Papa Bias’ every Sunday, from birth until I went away to college. We were such a public family on the Jackson/Mitchells’ side, that spending Sundays at Grandma and Papa Bias’ house helped provide balance and much needed private family time. My grandparents cooked together, and our family and close friends knew they could stop by Willard and Charles’ house any Sunday for dinner. There was always more than enough.
This past Easter weekend, we kept everything simple. On the afternoon of April 11, my daughter and I decided to bake some cookies. We were halfway in and realized we did not have enough flour. Rather than going to the store, we went to my brother’s house, just around the corner to borrow some to finish our baking. When the baking was complete, we closed out the Sabbath with family worship. The morning of April 12, we prepared for Easter dinner. My husband and I did the grocery shopping and the children brought in the groceries and put everything away. My mother prepared fresh green beans with potatoes and ears of corn. I baked chicken and crescent rolls. My son put out the silverware and plates, and we enjoyed our Easter dinner. My daughter cleaned the kitchen, while my mom watered the lawn and checked in with a neighbor who was walking her dog. We were grateful for our blessings and while we were not able to invite anyone else over this year, we prayed that everyone would get through this period and have larger celebrations soon.
Lisa Mitchell Sennaar’s career includes a decade in television and radio production and broadcast. Her family, the Jackson/Mitchells of Maryland left their imprint on the Civil Rights Revolution of the 20th Century, serving and helping to build local, state and national organizations; also serving at every level of government: the United Nations, House of Representatives, Maryland State Legislature and Baltimore City Council. Lisa works in state government, is married and the mother of two teenagers.