Decatur pastor encourages Austin Junior High students to 'rise'

Feb. 13—At all times, in all circumstances, Decatur Pastor Claudette Owens said Monday, individuals must rise in the face of adversity and navigate their own success.

The message was a part of her speech to students at Austin Junior High School during the school's Black history program that was preceded by presentations and performances by several students. February is Black History Month.

Owens is a pastor at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and has also worked as an engineer and scientist. She emphasized the word "rise" to the students and told how African Americans throughout history, and even today, have risen to overcome life's challenges.

Owens said the word "rise" is also an acronym for four essential characteristics: resilience, intentional, sacrifice and excellence.

"How many of you have a pair of Air Jordans today because you like Michael Jordan?" Owens asked. "Before he won six NBA championships and won MVP five times, he was cut from his junior varsity team in high school. Michael decided to get back out there, and that's what resilience is — it's bouncing back."

Owens explained to the crowd that merely wanting something will not materialize unless action is taken and had the students repeat a mantra reflecting that truth: "Want will always want but do will always get."

She went on to speak about Los Angeles Lakers player LeBron James and said despite him being 39 years old, he still overachieves because he's "intentional."

"He practices, not just with the team but on himself," Owens said.

When Owens spoke of "sacrifice," she displayed pictures of American civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcom X, who ultimately sacrificed their lives fighting for equality in the 1960s.

"Malcom was with the Nation of Islam, Martin was a Baptist preacher and with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Medgar was a part of the NAACP," Owens said. "They worked together and the reason they worked together is because they were fighting for civil rights, rights that everyone in America should have according to our Constitution. They had three different ideas, but one goal. It's alright to a have different ideas as long as you have one goal."

Concerning sacrifice, she mentioned three African American soldiers serving in Jordan who were killed in action during Operation Inherent Resolve last month: Kennedy Sanders, Breonna Moffett and William Rivers.

"Those three fought for civil rights, but these three soldiers fought for our constitutional rights in the United States," Owens said.

When speaking of excellence, Owens referenced gymnast Simone Biles and medical physicist Hadiyah-Nicole Green. Biles has earned seven Olympic medals and was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2022 while Green, a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Alabama A&M University, revolutionized a new cancer treatment using laser-activated nanoparticles.

"Everything we do should be done with excellence," Owens said. "Excellence is reaching something that someone else hasn't. Just reaching a goal for yourself and accomplishing it is excellence."

The program began with a musical prelude from the Austin Junior High School Jazz Band as they played Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and Aretha Franklin's "Respect."

After a rendition by the Austin High School Chamber Choir of "A City Called Heaven," by Mahalia Jackson, Austin Junior High students Alani Ingram and Braylee Pitts read poetry by Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou.

Following this was a performance by the Oakwood University Choir and a lyrical dance performance by Berkely Asher Preer, the daughter of Austin Junior High Assistant Principal Tamera Lowe-Preer. Members of the Delta Gamma Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at Alabama A&M University also performed a step show.

Before the program's conclusion, Austin High students Myah Motton and Demond Jackson performed a duet, singing "The Color Purple."

Austin Junior High Principal Tommie Johnson said he hopes his students walked away from the Black history program reinvigorated and inspired by Owens' words.

"You may have some students out there who were looking for something. Hopefully that was enough to grab those students and make them feel confident about their lives," Johnson said.

Johnson noted the success of astronaut Mae Jemison, who was born in Decatur, and said he wants his students to realize they can achieve the same success Jemison has.

"I want them to know that there's people here who have done big things and they can do big things also," Johnson said. or 256-340-2442.