An Evening of Faith, 2015

The local Urban League Mass Choir performs `Ezekiel Saw the Wheel' at the Urban League National Conference in July 2014 at the Duke Energy Convention Center. A. Michael Cunningham directs.

Urban League Mass Choir performs `Ezekiel Saw the Wheel’ at the Urban League National Conference in July 2014 at Duke Energy Convention Center. A. Michael Cunningham directs.


By Mark Curnutte
Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio

AVONDALE – In the mid-1950s, the fledgling modern civil rights movement found its home in the black church. Its leaders, many of them preachers, organized mass meetings held in their sanctuaries and undercrofts.

Black church music – filled with images of overcoming injustice and oppression through perseverance and faith – became the movement’s soundtrack, strengthening its foot soldiers’ steps, sustaining them, and keeping their eyes fixed on the prize.

The marriage of music and black community struggle remains strong even today, in the face of stubborn and sometimes widening racial disparities, detailed here in the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio’s report The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities.

So it’s natural that this Urban League, part of the 93-affiliate national civil rights movement, has a choir. Resurrected in 2009 by President and CEO Donna Jones Baker, the Urban League Mass Choir consists of up to 75 voices from 35 congregations and performs at special events.

One such event is An Evening of Faith on Nov. 13 at Inspirational Baptist Church, Forest Park.

A regular Urban League fundraiser presented by the League’s Guild, Evening of Faith features national acts, this year Byron Cage and J Moss, and the TOD Dance Ministry from Zion Global Ministries.

Cage, 52 — music minister at churches in Maryland and Virginia — has released seven gospel music albums, including “An Invitation to Worship.” It was nominated for a Grammy for New Gospel Album of the Year in 2006. Moss, 44, a Detroit native, is a singer, songwriter and producer whose 2007 album, “V2,” was nominated for a Grammy and rose into the Top 20 on Billboard’s R&B chart.

The Urban League Mass Choir, in its fifth year under the direction of A. Michael Cunningham, is preparing to perform solo and two songs with Cage: “I Will Bless the Lord” and “The Presence of the Lord Is Here.”

“When we put that Urban League logo on the (choir members’) collar, it represents the spiritual element to what we do,” said Baker, who has led the local League since 2003. “You can be spiritual without being overzealously religious.

“Having the Urban League Mass Choir underscores our connection to the people we serve.”

The Urban League in Cincinnati and Dayton offers industry-leading job-readiness, youth and business development programs.

The League helps at-risk youths stay in school, earn academic promotion, graduate with their peers, and prepare them for the college application process.

The League helps 80 percent of its job-readiness graduates – many of them returning citizens – find work and keep it for at least 12 months.

The League certifies minority- and women-owned in three states, opening the door for them to lucrative supplier chains.

To Cunningham, Minister of Music at New Jerusalem Baptist Church, Carthage, black church music and the Urban League’s mission are a good fit.

“The vision and direction of the Urban League is about second chances at jobs and life,” Cunningham said. “Black music lines up with the community even in times when things seem down. Black church music is uplifting. It draws people in. It gets everybody on the same page.”

Not counting his position at New Jerusalem, Cunningham is musical director of four choirs, including the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Classical Roots Mass Choir. He surely knows music and he knows the Urban League.

In 2009, he graduated in Class 16 of its Urban Leaders program, formerly known as the African-American Leadership Development Program. His wife, Takiyah Cunningham, formerly worked in the local League’s development department and sings in the mass choir. So does their 13-year-old daughter, Dylan Aria.

Takiyah Cunningham also once worked as a job-readiness trainer in the Urban League’s program best known by its acronym, SOAR (Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention). It pairs with Accelerated Call Center Education (ACE) as the core of the League’s entry-level, life-readiness courses.

Rebranded this month as the Accelerated Customer Service Education program, ACE is taught by Teri Dixon. She sings alto in the Urban League Mass Choir and in the choir at the Catholic Church of the Resurrection, her home parish in Bond Hill.

Historically, in the black community, mass choirs are made up of members of several standing choirs, normally church choirs.

“It’s a great bunch of people, people of different faiths who come together out of a common bond,” said Dixon, an Urban Leaguer since 2008.

That bond is the love of gospel music.

“It helps me,” Dixon said. “It’s feel-good music. It makes me (spiritually) full.”


What: An Evening of Faith, presented by the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio Guild

When: Friday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m.

Where: Inspirational Baptist Church, 11450 Sebring Drive, Forest Park, 45240.

Tickets: $35 for the main floor and $25 for the balcony in advance; $40 for main floor and $30 for balcony at the door.

Available in advance at, or at the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, 3458 Reading Road, Avondale, 45229. Tickets also are available at Inspirational Baptist Church; I Hear Music in the Air, 11804 Conrey Road, Suite 150, Sharonville, 45249; and Lifeway Christian Store, 1183 Smiley Ave., Forest Park, 45240.

More information: Contact Candie Simmons, (513) 559-5443.

These Companies are Transformational Supporters of the Urban League’s Corporate Heritage Annual Giving Program.