COLUMBIA, S.C. — Flanked by a number of South Carolina legislators and Richland County faith leaders at the South Carolina State House, family of the late esteemed State Representative Joseph H. Neal (D- House District 70) recently announced that Representative Neal’s Labor Day weekend birthday will be commemorated with a community health fair and a Sweet Gilliard Production of James Weldon Johnson’s “God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse.” Both events will take place on August 31, 2019, at Lower Richland High School at 7:00 PM.
Proceeds from “God’s Trombones” will benefit the Joseph H. Neal Health Collaborative established by the Neal family in June 2018 in honor of Representative Neal who represented portions of Richland and Sumter counties from 1993 until his death on Valentine’s Day 2017. He would have turned 69 on August 31, 2019.
The Joseph H. Neal Health Collaborative is located at 1911 Hampton Street in downtown Columbia. It is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the eradication of HIV/AIDS in South Carolina; and works in partnership with CAN Community Health to make its Hampton Street location the only agency in South Carolina to provides community outreach, preventive education, HIV testing, linkage to care, medical treatment and case management all in one location – regardless of a patient’s ability to pay or insurance status.
The Collaborative’s decision to prioritize the eradication of HIV/AIDS stems from Representative Neal’s commitment to the issue after learning early in his political career that South Carolina was the only state in the nation to ban anonymous testing and public funding to treat persons living with HIV/AIDS. Outraged that South Carolinians were dying for lack of diagnosis and treatment, Rep. Neal not only secured the votes to overturn the ban but worked tirelessly until his death to allocate funding in the state budget every year for that purpose.
Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley III recently recalled his friendship and love for Joseph Neal saying, “Joe Neal was one of my heroes. No one was more compassionate nor filled with more zeal for helping people in need as Joe Neal. To Joe, the tragedy of people being deprived of life-enhancing and life-saving care because of their economic status or color was unpardonable. The Joseph H. Neal Health Collaborative needs and deserves generous financial support to continue the legacy of Joe’s work in saving and enhancing lives in South Carolina.”
The August 31 performance of “God’s Trombones” will include the forty-member Gospel Music Workshop Choir and eight-piece brass ensemble of Zeb Harrison’s Sound of Praise Shout Band, all of Charlotte. Rounding out the performance will be eight Richland County pastors to orate the lyrical prayer and sermons. They are: Rev. Tim Bupp of Reformation Lutheran Church in Columbia; Rev. Candace Chellew of Jubilee Circle in Columbia; Rev. Stanley R. Flowers of St. Phillip AME Church in Hopkins; Bishop Ted Myers of Temple of Faith Bible Way Church in Gadsden; Bishop Bernard Sumter of Mill Creek Baptist Church in Columbia; Rev. Malcolm Taylor of New Light Beulah Baptist Church in Hopkins; Rev. Ivory Thigpen of Rehoboth Baptist Church in Columbia; and Rev. Sammy Wade of St. John & Mt. Nebo Baptist Churches in Hopkins and Gadsden, respectively.
Published in 1927 at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, “God’s Trombones” was penned by the illustrious composer, writer, diplomat, attorney, and civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938). As first executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Johnson spent time in South Carolina helping to charter the first NAACP chapters in Columbia and Charleston during World War I. The essence of “God’s Trombones” is a tribute to the prophetic tradition of the African American pastor whose fortitude sustained America’s enslaved people for centuries. There could be no finer way than through this rousing production to honor the life and legacy of Joseph H. Neal, himself an ordained Baptist minister whose heart, mind and soul were focused on the amelioration of suffering and the advancement of the “beloved community” in South Carolina. Such was his devotion to work that his cell phone had to be taken from him in his hospital bed before he passed away.
Tickets for the one-time performance are $35 each and available at the Collaborative offices at 1911 Hampton Street and in many area churches.
The Collaborative is also selling advertising for the evening’s program, as well as seeking corporate and individual sponsors to support its work. For further information, please contact Wilma Neal Garren at (646) 831-1001 or email [email protected]
All proceeds from the production will benefit the Joseph H. Neal Health Collaborative and the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights in Columbia, which Rep. Neal co-founded in 2015.
Details about the community health fair will be announced at a later date.
HIV/AIDS IN SOUTH CAROLINA: Currently, South Carolina ranks 11th in the nation for per capita population living with the diagnosis and, according to the most recent figures available from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), approximately 20,000 Palmetto State residents are living with HIV/AIDS. Statistics also show that Black South Carolinians are disproportionately impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. While they comprise 27% of South Carolina’s population, African Americans account for 68.7% of people living with the illness in the state, compared to 23.8% who are Hispanic and 4.7% who are white. African American men, who comprise just 13% of the state’s population, make up the largest proportions of people who both live with HIV/AIDS (46%) and receive new diagnoses (51%). Additionally, the rate at which black women in South Carolina live with an HIV diagnosis is 11.6 times greater than that of white women.