Pasco County once had a host of benevolent organizations that were responsible for teaching, maintaining rituals, socialization and transferring customs from one generation to another. Some were Masonic in nature and some were purely social. They aimed to build stronger communities by developing responsible men and women.
In east Pasco County, these groups became popular in the 1940s and '50s. As time passes, though, it's becoming difficult to find remnants of their existence.
Such organizations stand contrary to the common belief that the essence of the black community begins and ends with the black church. There is no doubt about the role the church has played and will play in the future, but it never has been the panacea for every ill in the community.
In areas where the church's reach was too short to serve the needs of the people, benevolent organizations were established, especially during the tough Jim Crow years as former bondmen and women transitioned into communities of free people. Community-minded leaders established a network of organizations that did things for the people that the church, schools and even families were not always capable of doing.
Most of the organizations offered members burial insurance policies. The organizations helped with the planning of funerals. Job benefits and government assistance were not as available in the '30s and '40s as they are today.
The lodges also offered a safe place to socialize.
The organizations were support systems. Family training was offered to young couples to prevent divorce and fatherless children. The Masonic organization offered the promise of protection through an international brotherhood. The lodges established auxiliaries to address the needs of youths.
Beneath their logos and secretive natures, they all had common characteristics. For instance, they were most visible performing rituals during wakes and funerals for deceased members. These were great opportunities to promote the organizations before targeted public audiences.
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In Pasco County, the benevolent organizations disappeared as quickly as they evolved. There are a number of theories as to why. Because their decline happened at the same time the community started integrating in the 1960s, that's the major reason given for their demise.
Former Pasco High School coach Larry Wright said that as the black community turned over responsibility for educating its children to others, kids did not learn to appreciate their own institutions.
Another common reason is that the older fellows did not share the leadership. It is one of the points Vernon Jordan, the former president of the National Urban League, made in his book, "Vernon Can Read": Civil right leaders did not transfer leadership. They died in those leadership positions. The same can be said of the fraternal organizations.
I find that unacceptable. Managing an organization requires a high level of skill, but the most important skill is the ability to motivate people and to make changes as they are needed. Hopelessness has never been an option for me. We need to build long-lasting organizations that will nurture strong communities. Some call it putting faith into action.
When the community cried out to our forefathers, they answered. The community is crying out now. Will you answer?
It is a question that is not peculiar simply to the African American community, but to the entire American society. Governments don't improve society. Individuals do. Neighbors do. I tell Masons everywhere I go that Freemasonry stands in a unique position to take its place once again in changing and improving society.
Mr. Asukile's question needs to be answered by us all. "Will you answer?"