Bishop Craig Coates is a history buff and celebrant of Black history. The senior pastor at Fresh Start Church in Glen Burnie, Maryland is also a businessman who runs his flagship store called Craig Coates Couture. Growth Matters, LLC is Coates’ company that provides community engagement focusing on black equity.
But Coates, who is also regarded as a historian, will now lead the Annapolis Juneteenth celebration that was envisioned by Phyllis Tee Adams in 2021. Juneteenth is traditionally celebrated on June 19. Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to inform people that the Civil War had ended. Enslaved people were finally free. Delivery of the news –in 1865— occurred two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had already abolished slavery.
Coates incorporates his academic background that includes majoring in African American history at the University of Maryland, when he educates others about past truths.
“My school experience in history has allowed me to serve on many occasions as a lecturer at University of Maryland on the subject of Black history and wealth inequalities,” Coates said.
Coates’ reasons for delving into history are purpose driven. He reflected on his early years of pastoring around 1998.
“I had been pastoring for years, and I had started burying a lot of young men in the community. While on vacation, I had picked up some materials from Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu. He’s out of Chicago, and he had written up a piece about the conspiracy to destroy African American males. After reading that, I decided I needed to go back to school, because prior to that, my degree was in apparel design,” Coates said.
Upon returning to school, Coates majored in African American studies. He felt like he did not know enough Black history. Coates also desired to assist Black males to figure out what was going wrong for them. During his new journey, a program was created at the Rapture Church in Annapolis. Coates pastored there for 14 years.
“It focused on everything from miseducation to the prison pipeline to the prison industry, to understanding our role as a man, where that went wrong and so many [other] things,” Coates said.
Coates remains dedicated to teaching history in the community. In honor of Black History Month, Maryland Hall will host a presentation of the exhibit called “Freedom Way: A Blueprint of African American Resistance and Liberation in the United States.” It will be displayed in Maryland Hall’s lower-level gallery from February 1-28, 2023, located at 801 Chase Street in Annapolis, Maryland. The music and art collection of framed graphic posters was created by Coates. A meet-the-artist reception will be held in the lower level of Bowen Theatre. Coates will provide a featured presentation on Sunday, February 19, 2023, at 1 p.m. The Freedom Way event is a precursor to the 2023 Juneteenth celebration.
The concept of Freedom Way began when Adams informed Coates that she wanted a display at Annapolis’ inaugural Juneteenth. Coates agreed to create an educational visual.
“I wanted to create something so big and so alive, and that’s what we did. It took up almost half of the track with eight by four panels, telling our history from slavery to Juneteenth to forward to now, and that is how Freedom Way became. So many people visited Freedom Way at the first year’s Juneteenth,” Coates said.
He added that it is a blueprint of African American resistance and liberation from the documentation of the institutionalization of slavery in America to present. It includes documents from the Library of Congress and Coates’ study material.
“I want people to realize that African American freedom has not come by way of it being given by the oppressor. As Dr. King says, ‘It’s common because the oppressed demanded it.’ And still we do, and it always comes with bloodshed, unfortunately,” Coates said. “People need to know, Black people, white people, Hispanic people, that liberation for Black people is still ongoing and still on the table.”
Chris Haley, research director of the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland, remarked that images that were reflective of the journey for Maryland African Americans who sought freedom were provided by the Maryland State Archives for Freedom Way.
“I think Freedom Way is another good example of using an artistic approach to affect people emotionally about their history,” Haley said.
All ages are invited to see “Freedom Way.” Visit https://www.marylandhall.org/events/freedom-way-exhibition-presentation/2023-02-19 for more information. Space is limited. Registration is required via https://ticketing.marylandhall.org/28223/28224.