St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church will observe its 131st anniversary Saturday with a celebration at the church in Duluth’s Central Hillside.

Dr. Jerel Benton, director of equity, diversity and inclusion at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, will be the keynote speaker for the event, which starts at 4 p.m. at the church, 530 N. Fifth Ave. E.

The celebration’s theme is “Be brave and courageous, and wait for the Lord,” in part from a biblical passage from the Book of Psalms.

The celebration also will include performances from the Rev. Gabriel Green and the Rochester, Minn.-based Peculiar People Community Choir; the St. Mark Choir and Praise Dancers; the Waymen AME Church Men’s Choir; saxophonist Billy Wright; and singers Meliita Thygeson Wright and Sister Eileen Berry.

The Rev. Dr. Tracey Gibson, the church's pastor, said Saturday’s celebration is about reflection. She said the congregation looks to the concept of sankofa, a word from the Akan tribe in Ghana that symbolizes a sense of needing to look back in order to move forward.

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“It gives us a time to reflect on the history of the church,” Gibson said. “It gives us a time to reflect on who we are as a people, and it gives us a chance to reflect on, ‘Where do we want to go from here?’”

As she reflected on the church’s place in the community, Gibson noted that the church was the only building in Duluth built by people of African ancestry, and the church has had a long history of community outreach in the city.

The church has a strong partnership with CHUM, and participates in events such as National Night Out and the annual Juneteenth celebration, Gibson said. The weekend after the anniversary celebration, members will be at Steve O'Neil Apartments serving meals to residents.

“We're very active in helping those that are in need; we really work to bring the African Methodist Episcopal Church alive,” she said. “We minister to the social, the spiritual and the physical development of our people. ... So, our goal is to continue to build programs and create projects that meet the needs of those in the community. … We are just a small church trying to do the Word of God and bring the Word of God to life for others.”

Last year’s 130th anniversary celebration was standing-room only, Gibson said, adding that the event transcends race, faith or location.

“We bring in people from Rochester, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and we put together a nice event for people to come and enjoy,” she said. “And the key for me is that it’s multicultural. So, it's not just black people or white people; it’s Hispanic, it’s Native American. It's very much a welcoming place for all to come and celebrate with us.”