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Wednesday
Jul 23rd

Prince Hall Black White Ball

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It was a moment reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King's dream and one that will forever be marked down in Masonic history. On Saturday January 12 at the annual Black & White ball at the Zurah Shrine Center, Keith Johnson, Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, became the first African American to be escorted by the Zurah Shrine bagpipers of the AF and AM brothers.
Right: Keith Johnson

It was a moment reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King's dream and one that will forever be marked down in Masonic history. On Saturday January 12 at the annual Black & White ball at the Zurah Shrine Center, Keith Johnson, Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, became the first African American to be escorted by the Zurah Shrine bagpipers of the AF and AM brothers.

"Prince Hall lodges are predominantly Black; AF & AM, predominantly white," said Johnson.

"We split because of a silly argument and we decided to stay split because of ignorance," said Jerry Oliver, past master of Anoka lodge AF& AM. "After years have gone by, finally two Masonic brothers, one being AF and AM., the other being Prince Hall, simply asked: 'Why are we fighting, why don't we recognize one another?'"

This event marked the beginning of that recognition.

"We're one of the pioneers throughout the county as far as dual recognition between AF & AM lodges and Prince Hall lodges," said Johnson. "We are actually the only jurisdiction in the country that has dual membership and dual recognition."

What finally made the organizations put aside their differences?

"Both organizations are working towards the same goal, which is to help in the community as much as we can," said Johnson. "But AF & AM is significantly larger than we are and they have a lot more resources than we have, but working together we can reach more people."

They are currently working on several community initiatives. The Prince Hall lodges have teamed up with the Minneapolis Urban League and are in the process of setting up voter registration in an effort to get more people out to the polls in what is a vital election year. They will be identifying people and places that need transportation and volunteering their services to get people out to vote.

"We're going to focus on hitting the community in places like the barber shops, beauty shops and community centers. Places where we are," said Johnson.

The Prince Hall masons also work closely with the Shriner's Hospital for Children-Twin Cities and work directly with a lot of youth. The annual event also serves as a fundraiser for their various youth groups and scholarships they give to high school students.

Masons are not as commonly seen or heard of as some other fraternities, such as the Kappas, Alphas and Omegas, but they are now making it a point make people aware of their organization and what they do.

"Part of what we are about, is we agreed not to promote ourselves; unfortunately people don't see what we do so they are not sure who we are," said Johnson.

For the first time in five years, the Prince Hall Masons also had a public installation, partly to spark people's curiosity in an effort to boost membership. They have also been actively recruiting on the University of Minnesota campus to ensure that their legacy lives on. Their main requirement is that prospective members are willing to serve their community, even if already a member of another fraternity.

"We have counselors, we have mentors, we have teachers, we have all of those things, so if you are doing those things it is not going to hinder your organization or whatever you're doing," Johnson said. "It's not about the group. It's about what we can do in the community together."
 

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