By Marilyn Marshall
SHAPE Community Center has reason to celebrate. Since its founding on June 1, 1969, the Third Ward institution has made an impact on Houston and beyond for 50 years. SHAPE – which stands for Self-Help for African People through Education – has a history of providing programs and activities to strengthen families and communities.
Anniversary activities include the center’s 40th annual Pan-African Cultural Festival on Saturday, May 25 and a Founder’s Day Celebration on Saturday, June 1. Another major event is planned for November.
Deloyd Parker, SHAPE’s co-founder and executive director, has been at the helm since the beginning. He stresses that SHAPE is a team comprised of committed supporters of all ages and backgrounds who have made the organization what it is today.
“SHAPE is not about one individual,” Parker said. “We want to make sure it is around many, many years after I have left this planet.”
In an interview with the Defender, Parker discussed the past, present and future.
Defender: What is the key to SHAPE’s 50-year history of serving the community?
Parker: In order for an organization to continue and evolve and sustain itself, those who come through have to come back and give back. We depend on the community to keep SHAPE alive, not just financially but by volunteering. Time equals money and the fact that people give back and volunteer their services shows that there’s no power like the power of the people.
We deal with three generations at SHAPE – the children, their parents and the elders. Children represent our future, parents help us develop and cultivate that future, and our elders represent the wisdom we need to make sure we’re going in the right direction.
Defender: What is the biggest challenge facing SHAPE right now?
Parker: Sustainability and making sure that the community recognizes our value. That’s not to suggest that many do not. We’re looking for 50 people right now to invest $500 for a total of $25,000 to continue our programs. For those who don’t have $500, we are asking for $50. Obviously, finances and economics is a continuing problem. For those who contribute we don’t call it a donation. We call it an investment.
Defender: What do you think is the greatest challenge facing the Black community overall?
Parker: Getting us to recognize the seven major principles [of African culture called the Nguzo Saba – unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith]. Unity extends from the family to the community. Self-determination is being able to speak for ourselves, define ourselves, name ourselves. Collective work and responsibility involve developing our community together. Cooperative economics is being able recognize the importance of pooling our economic resources to build and sustain institutions in our community. We have to have a team effort.
Then we have to have a purpose. We have to know what our purpose is and focus in on it. We have to have creativity; we can’t do it the straight and narrow way. We have to go this way, that way, up, down. As Black people, we have faith, but we have to strengthen our faith.
The challenge is embracing those seven principles. The blueprint is already there. You just have to follow that blueprint and be able to read it and empower it.
Defender: What will the Founder’s Day celebration entail?
Parker: People will be coming from everywhere to join us – children who grew up at SHAPE and are now doctors, lawyers, teachers. We will celebrate and pay homage to those who are no longer with us, from Elder Jean Dember to Esther King, and many more who are gone now. If it hadn’t been for them, there would be no SHAPE Center.
Rev. Bill Lawson, pastor emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, will receive our first Honorable Chief Chairman Award. Rev. Lawson was instrumental in helping start SHAPE Center. He is the one who called on me to start the program and I answered his call.
50th anniversary events
- Pan-African Cultural Festival, Saturday, May 25, 10 a.m., SHAPE, 3815 Live Oak
- Founder’s Day Celebration, Saturday, June 1, 6:30 p.m., Emancipation Cultural Center, 3018 Emancipation Ave. “Royal cultural” attire. RSVP at Shape50th.eventbrite.com
This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network.