Rev. C.H. Charlton, BreAnda Conely and Tre Webster
For more than 25 years, Friendship Baptist Church has been recognizing students in the congregation of all ages for their academic success and excellence.
Pastor Dr. C.H. Charlton said Friday that he couldn’t be any more proud to honor the achievements of worthy young members of his congregation this year with their Excellence in Education Banquet held in the Best Western conference center.
“It’s fantastic. I’m real proud of them, and to me it means everything,” Charlton said. “The reason I started it was because when I came here in 1977, the children who did well in school were looked down upon by the kids that didn’t do well. They called them names and many didn’t even know I knew that. I give God glory for this because I didn’t know what to do.”
Originally, Charlton said the congregation began by having children turn in their grade cards to be recognized during church services.
A few years later, the congregation began to have a banquet in the basement of the church to honor yearlong achievements, but it soon outgrew the space with families, county and city officeholders and educators invited to attend.
“It began to grow and people started making better grades and going to college,” Charlton said. “We also started giving scholarships to our members. I can see the effects.”
Every June since then, a churchsponsored banquet has been held to honor any student in the congregation from pre-K through college level.
Unique to the banquet this year, students were invited to be guest speakers and each speech focused on a word they feel drives
A recent graduate of Science Hill High School, Tre Webster, said he wanted to share with all in attendance how perseverance plays a role in success.
“There are always going to be obstacles in life, but it’s how you deal with them,” Webster said. “I choose to fight mine head-on with the Lord by my side. That’s how I get over them.”
Webster said his favorite part of the church’s educational program is feeling constant love and support while he works through his education.
“It keeps me going,” Webster said. “It kept me on the right path and helped me keep my faith in the Lord.”
For making the dean’s list her freshman year at the University of Tennessee, BreAnda Conely was asked to elaborate on the word “discipline” and its role in success.
Conley said she was honored to speak in front of all the people she admires in her congregation.
“I’ve been at the Excellence in Education banquet since I was in elementary school. It’s still an honor and privilege to be a part of it,” Conley said. “They’ve showed me that I can do whatever I want to in my life. That’s something I want to be able to bring back to the community and the younger ones.”
Conley said she has experienced the impact the recognitions can have on her confidence and she hopes to promote the same confidence in the younger generations.
“I just think it’s great they are honoring kids for their education,” Conley said. “I think this pushes them to want to be recognized.”
A recent Middle Tennessee State University graduate, Jonathan Radford, was also asked to give a speech about how the word “purpose” drives success.
Charlton said Radford competed his four-year degree in three years and is very proud of him, as well as all of the Friday night honorees.
“They learn the importance of getting a good education,” Charlton said. “Once they’ve prepared themselves with a good education, there’s less chance that they will get into things they shouldn’t. I want them to live their dream.”
Education has become a part of the congregation’s motto, which Charlton coined, said Dr. Angela Lewis, a member of the congregation and associate dean of East Tennessee State University’s College of Education.
“I’ll quote my pastor,” Lewis said. “He says, ‘With a heart full of Jesus and a head full of knowledge, you can’t fail.’ ”
Last year, 30 awards were given out compared to this year’s 40 awards.
For pre-K through high school students who are able to maintain an A or B average, medallions are placed around their necks. Plaques are given to successful college graduates and students.
The church has a specific interest in education and their recognition is year-round, not just at the banquet, Lewis said.
“Each year throughout the year, we recognize young people or anyone who is doing something academically. We read their names out in church as they turn in grade reports,” Lewis said. “We recognize job promotion or anything that’s positive.”
The church also takes the topic of education a step further, Lewis said.
“Not only do we celebrate in June and throughout the year, we also have an Excellence in Education Task Force,” Lewis said. “We offer tutoring, workshops with the parents and try to keep parents and students informed about what’s going on in schools.”
Lewis said she believes that the educational boost young people receive through the church prompts them to strive for excellence throughout the rest of their life.
“It’s an opportunity for us to continue to encourage young people to do well,” Lewis said. “The church family comes together as a whole to celebrate their accomplishments.”