The Royal Flush At The Door Of The Colored Bathroom
BY VALADA FLEWELLYN
WINTER PARK - These words proceeded the ceremonial flushing of racism, ageism, classism, homophobia and other ills and isms. Sunday, February 26th, 2017, at 2pm, the First Congregational Church of Winter Park (FCCWP) and over 100 people gathered to participate in a ceremonial act of solidarity. The ceremony was performed by Reverend Shawn Garvey, pastor of the FCCWP, and Reverend Erika Rembert Smith, pastor of the Washington Shores Presbyterian Church (WSPC). The two pastors stood along with members of the Bridging the Color Divide Committee, Toni Peck, President of the Board of Directors, Crealde School of Art, Fairolyn Livingston, and Hannibal Square Heritage Center Historian, Martha Hall, who recently who won a hard fought battle make her home a historic site in Winter Park and a host of others gathered to flushed away, one by one, the societal ills and ism’s that divide us.
On Reverend Shawn Garvey’s Facebook page he shared: "Today, appropriately on Transfiguration Sunday, with the help and loving presence of many of our African-American Sisters and Brothers we transformed a space at the church designated on a set of blueprints from 1940 as the "Colored Toilet" and reclaimed it as a space for all of God's children forever more. We flushed away the ugliness of who and what we can be and prayed for a more loving, unified future while never forgetting our past. Thanks to the over 100 people who joined us, including Rev. Erica Smith and members from Washington Shores Presbyterian Church, my sweet friend Valada Flewellyn, and members of Bridging The Color Divide and FCCWP. It was an amazing and moving way to close Black History Month.”
This ceremony came in response to a previous "Ahh…Moments” column article, published in The Orlando Times entitled “The Door To The Colored Bathroom”. The article was posted by a member of First Congregational Church of Winter Park on the church’s members only website. Many of the members of the church were surprised to learn about the bathroom and were concerned about what to do with the knowledge. To the church's credit, the decision was made to embrace it, although they admitted to their temptation to erase it. As one member shared, they had considered turning the bathroom into a colorful pottery shed. They were surprised and embarrassed by the startling realization that a colored bathroom existed at the church, given the churches history of a long and fruitful relationship with the African American community.
My family and I attended the FCCWP church services on Sunday where Pastor Garvey read from a document he found in the church archives entitled, “Relations with the Black Community”. The document written in that late 70s spoke of the contributions the church had made to the Black community since its founding. Also included in the archives was the program from an event that took place in the church sanctuary in March of 1947, a "Conference To Defend Democracy In Florida” that was attended by Harry T. Moore and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune to block an attempt to segregate the vote in Florida.
Personally, I believe that Pastor Shawn Garvey and FCCWP, were divinely chosen to join Pastor Erika Rembert Smith and WSPC, to lead the movement to respect and preserve tangible vestiges of our unpleasant and regretful past, like the colored bathroom. Visible structures like the bathroom, are important reminders of the truths the past. Toni Peck brought her children to the bathroom because she wanted her children to see for themselves what segregation looked like. That there was a day when we allowed ourselves to treat people differently, even in the church, this bathroom was a visible sign of that truth. The “Colored Only" sign was not there, but the memory lingered for those of us who lived it. We felt gratified that we were able to not only attest to the past but by our very presence we were declaring that what was...shall never be allowed to happen again. As expressed by my friend Nina Alloway, “from now on the sound of the toilet flushing will mean something different.” I agree, every time I hear the toilet flush, I will remember what we did at the church that day to “Bridge the Color Divide”. After the ceremony Barbara Chandler, welcomed us with food and conversation at the Hannibal Square Heritage Center, sponsored by EYESEEIMAGES. We sat together on the porch and shared stories and engaged in warm and hearty conversation. Sunday, February 26th, 2017, outside the door of the colored bathroom at FCCWP and on the porch of the Hannibal Square Heritage Center we shared treasured Ahh…moments. Thanks be to God.
The ROYAL FLUSH
by Valada Flewellyn
Today we come together
In a place too narrow
A world so vast
We are gathered here
For a very specific task
To let go
Every remnant, every fragment
We are here to let go
To release…hatred, bigotry, idolatry
Ignorance, judgement, pain,,
May we flush until
No traces of what divides us remain
Our hearts no longer heavy
Our heads together bow
The message of peace
Around the world
Goes out NOW
Photo Cutline: (L-R): Pastor Shawn Garvey, Pastor Erika Rembert Smith, Valada Parker Flewellyn. Photo Credit: EYESEEIMAGES