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A speech during a graduation ceremony

Source: Vladimir Vladimirov / Getty

Mother African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church nobly opened its doors to the Black Students Association at Columbia University this week to celebrate graduation after it had been cancelled.

“When people ask what the Black Church is doing, I always respond, ‘it depends on where you are looking,’” Mother Zion’s Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Malcolm J. Byrd, wrote in a Facebook post today. “Columbia University canceled its public commencement ceremony, citing security concerns. When I learned that the Black Students Association had nowhere to hold their Black graduation, the answer was very clear to me, Mother Zion!”

The university’s main graduation ceremony had been cancelled amid security concerns over ongoing pro-Palestinian protests on and off campus, around the nation. School administrators and student leaders agreed to continue with school level and affinity group graduations as of last week’s reports, but the annual Black Graduation Celebration was cancelled as well.


Neighbors near and far are calling Pastor Byrd and his gesture a blessing to his Harlem community.

One facebook user shared the post giving kudos to Mother Zion for “doing and being” what a church can be: “When I was going it was my understanding that it was a hospital for the sick and not a hotel for the saints. The way y’all talk about the church today, I have no desire as it doesn’t seem kind or welcoming at all. Kudos for this church choosing to create the space… I’m here for it!”

Another shared, “Black community. Don’t let them tell you we don’t it. Not when they lack it and envy us because we don’t.”

Like many schools, Columbia University is home to a handful of multicultural organizations and affinity groups. As part of the celebratory graduating season, the university partners with undergraduates of the organizations to host additional commencement ceremonies that allow students to celebrate “cultural intersections in their lives and honor the communities to which they belong.” It’s a tradition that dates back to 2005 and spans across Black, Asian, first-generation, low-income, Latinx, international students, and more communities honoring heritage and tradition.

It’s fitting that Pastor Boyd would open the church doors to sustain Black tradition and celebration.

Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, located at 137th Street between Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevards in Harlem, is the first and oldest Black church in the state of New York. When it was founded in 1796, Mother Zion served as a church home for free and runaway slaves. Early notable members included Harriett Tubman and Frederick Douglass.

Harlem Church Opens Its Doors For Columbia University’s Black Graduation Celebration  was originally published on