Religious leaders, Maya Angelou greet, offer support to WFU's 13th President Nathan O. Hatch

By Jacob McConnico
October 18, 2005

In an early morning community prayer service in downtown Winston-Salem that brought administrators, faculty, staff and students from Wake Forest University together with local religious and civic leaders, Maya Angelou, author and Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest, greeted the university's 13th president, Nathan O. Hatch, as "our new rainbow."

Maya Angelou

Angelou's keynote address, delivered during an 8:15 a.m. prayer service Oct. 18 at Union Baptist Church, 1200 N. Trade St., started with her singing a portion of a song that told a story from the Old Testament book of Genesis about God placing a rainbow in the sky to ease people's fears about unrelenting rain.

"When it looked like the sun wasn't gonna shine any more, God put a rainbow in the clouds," Angelou sang.

"I am so pleased to welcome Dr. Hatch as our new rainbow," she said. "I am so delighted. I know he is going to shine on all of us — black and white, fat and thin, pretty and plain, rich and poor, male and female, old and young.

"In this neighborhood, which is my neighborhood, in this town, which is my town, in this state, this country, this world, all mine, we have great need of rainbows," Angelou said. "And, at this time, all over the world, we have need of rainbows."

The service, organized by the Wake Forest Divinity School and the University Chaplain's office and hosted by Union Baptist Church, helped kick off a week-long series of events designed to celebrate the presidential inauguration of Hatch, who assumed the Wake Forest presidency July 1 after serving as provost at the University of Notre Dame. He will be installed as president during a 3 p.m. ceremony Oct. 20 in Wait Chapel.

Angelou also told a story during the service about her Uncle Willie who lived in rural Arkansas and influenced generations of leaders in the state, even though he was a handicapped, black man who came up in a time when black men had little power. She charged Hatch and the audience with making a difference in the lives of all people.

Hatch spoke near the end of the service and told participants, representing the local Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities that he was thankful for their presence, good wishes and prayers for support.

"You have offered insight and challenge for me as I begin to learn more about the city, its history and the common contribution of religious communities to its common life," Hatch said. "As president of Wake Forest, I look forward to developing relationships with individuals and faith communities that benefit not only Wake Forest, but powerfully benefit this city and this region.

President Nathan O. Hatch greets Maya Angelou

"Today is an important beginning, but there will be other occasions for dialogue and action related to the economic, educational and spiritual life that I hope will deepen our friendship here in Winston-Salem," he said. "Julie (Hatch) and I are deeply moved by this service, by all of your participation, and we anticipate the days ahead and are grateful for this kind and hospitable welcome."

Both Angelou and Hatch spoke during the hour-long service, which also featured participation from local religious and civic leaders like Geneva Brown, a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education and a congregant of First Baptist Church; Imam Khalid Griggs, the imam of the Community Mosque of Winston-Salem; the Rev. Dr. Wayde Goodall, pastor of First Assembly of God; Ann Brenner, university trustee emerita and member of Temple Emanuel Congregation; and the Rev. Jennie Leake Hemrick, pastor of Hills and Pine Ridge Presbyterian Churches.

"In Winston-Salem, we have several churches, mosques and synagogues," said the Rev. Dr. Sir Walter Lee Mack Jr., pastor of Union Baptist Church, during his welcoming comments. "On behalf of the faith-based community, I extend to you a sincere welcome, pledge the practice of prayer and extend undergirding support to you as you endeavor to further nurture the existence of those who play a vital role, not only in the future of our society, but now and always. Welcome to our city, and we are thankful that you are here."

Wake Forest Divinity School Dean Bill J. Leonard said during the service that he was grateful Maya Angelou could be at the event to provide "wisdom for the journey ahead." He said the inauguration of Hatch provided the university a cathartic moment to reflect on its identity and its destination.

"Today's service is a brief, but we hope a substantial reminder of the ways in which campus and community can forge new ways to speak and work together," Leonard said.

Most service participants echoed the sentiments of Mack and Angelou by offering greetings and support to Hatch as he begins his presidency at Wake Forest.

Imam Griggs expressed his gratitude to Hatch and to the university for including the Muslim community at the morning's prayer service and spoke at length about Wake Forest's contribution to educating Muslims from around the world.

"As more students from around the world have come to this fine outstanding university, to study there and to become a part of the local Muslim community and then often to return to their own countries to be presidents of universities, to be leaders in the government, to be scientists of every ilk, it is a very important role and contribution that Wake Forest University had in the development of these fine outstanding citizens of the world."

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