NCAA Division II’s Winston-Salem State and Division I Wake Forest University don’t play each other during the college basketball season, but the two teams took the court together recently—on the same side.
Winston-Salem State Coach Philip Stitt and his Rams teamed up with Skip Prosser and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons Sept. 27 to work with 120 community youngsters in a Diversity Partnership Basketball Camp.
The camp, in its fourth year, is co-sponsored by First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., a predominantly white downtown congregation, and the predominantly black United Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church.
The cross-town, cross-cultural collaboration is the highest profile of a number of events that bring the two congregations together to foster racial harmony and provide a united Christian witness to the city, said Howell Smith, one of the event’s coordinators.
Pastors James Ballard of UMMBC and David Hughes of First Baptist began sharing each other’s pulpits and holding joint worship services in the mid-1990s, Smith said. That relationship prompted some pioneer members to switch congregations, which were traditionally segregated by race, and for the two congregations to build a Habitat for Humanity house together.
Deacons in the two churches helped form a joint diversity committee to create a ministry bringing the congregations closer together. The group chose for its motto: “Together—Seeking the Soul of the City.”
The churches met together in 1999 and identified nearly 50 ideas for possible joint efforts. One was for First Baptist to offer its facilities to United for its fall revival. In the middle of a building program at the time, UMMBC had no place to hold its revival. The idea evolved into holding a joint revival for both congregations.
Evangelist Tony Campolo, who was already scheduled to be in the city, agreed to speak at the Sept. 17-19, 2000, revival. Campolo, a white minister who worships in a black church, was a hit with both groups. The positive and powerful experience brought the churches together in new and meaningful ways, Smith said.
That September the two churches co-sponsored the first basketball camp for middle-schoolers, led by then-coaches Dave Odom at Wake Forest and Rick Duckett of Winston-Salem State. When Odom left in April 2001 to become coach at South Carolina, he took Duckett along as assistant coach.
Organizers said this year’s basketball camp was the largest ever. It included basketball instruction, speeches and a lunch.
“I thought this was the best year of the clinic,” WSSU guard Jay Maynard told the Winston-Salem Chronicle. “We all really enjoyed the event this year, and all the kids really seemed to enjoy it this year. I think it was a good turnout of kids, too. Our team did a really good job with the kids, as well as the Wake Forest guys.”
“It’s important to our community to know that leaders in the two schools are willing to invest their time in showing that we can all work together,” Smith said. “It’s also important to know that the two churches and their members can do things worthwhile side by side.”
Recognizing that a historically black church in Winston-Salem also called itself First Baptist, the white First Baptist eventually began calling itself “First Baptist Church, Fifth Street” to distinguish itself out of respect for the African-American community, said Smith, a history professor at Wake Forest and member of First Baptist.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.