Seeking to commemorate Black History Month, nonprofit Village in the Valley (ViVa) — which holds the mission strengthening the connection of African Americans in the Rio Grande Valley to other cultures in the region — will be hosting Gospel Fest on Saturday.
Starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Old Church Winery in McAllen, the free event will begin with a prayer and scripture reading, and have entertainment, such as color guard presentations, a gospel choir performances and poetry reading, throughout the evening.
Additionally, Erica Muñoz and Jacob Duran will be performing solos.
The program is expected to run until 9 p.m. and is open to everyone.
“People can just come and enjoy the singing, and enjoy the music and the people,” said Theresa Gatling, one of the four founders of ViVa.
“We really wanted to do something that we don’t get much of, which is gospel music… Gospel music and church is foundational to the African American culture. This event is about coming together to celebrate the foundational roots of our people.”
Gatling added that singing was a source of hope for those bounded by slavery centuries ago, and remains as a fount of strength for the African American community.
“A lot of who we are is built on singing,” she said. “In the underground railroads, in slavery, there was a lot of singing that went on. People would be telling messages through their songs, and centuries later, church is still at the center of the African American community.”
ViVa was established last year with two goals: to connect local African Americans together, and as a whole, become more educated about the other cultures in the Valley.
“We are unifying the African Americans in this community, and we are also trying to bridge the gap of cultural diversity.”
According to the Census Bureau in 2010, Blacks and African Americans make up .9% of the Valley population.
“We got together because we are hearing from people — mostly children — that there is a feeling of isolation,” Gatling said, who is also the physical therapist at MTG Rehab in McAllen.
“Kids were saying, ‘Mom, dad, why can’t we just live in Houston or somewhere else?’
They felt isolated because no other children looked like them. We are saying to them ‘No, that is not true. There are so many like us, it is just that we are so spread apart.”
Inspiration for the nonprofit’s name, according to their website, is that “not only does it take the African American village to raise a child, it also takes the diligence of members in the community to ensure the success of all our children. The end result will create a mutual respect for our cultural differences and understanding of our similarities.”
So far, about 60 people have registered to be a part of ViVa, and Gatling is looking toward expanding the network.
Sermons at Gospel Fest will follow the theme of “perfect unity,” the same theme of Juneteenth this year.
“They are short sermons, not whole services, to get people to start thinking about Juneteenth already,” Gatling said.
She added that though the nonprofit is relatively new and is still at its growing stages, they still are hoping to commemorate Black History Month.
“We wanted to make sure that we don’t let Black History Month go by without giving some homage to our roots — and gospel music is definitely our roots.”
The event will feature a welcome and reception, followed by a musical program featuring a variety of choirs and individuals.
WHEN 6:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE Old Church Winery, 700 N. Main St., McAllen