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New Mt. Olive Baptist Church Looks Back On 100 Years In Fort Lauderdale And What Comes Next

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Caitie Switalski
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WLRN
Marcus Davidson, New Mt. Olive's senior pastor, has been in the role for nearly nine years.

New Mt. Olive Baptist Church has been in the middle of the Historic Sistrunk neighborhood, in Fort Lauderdale, for 100 years.

It's been there for so long that black people were welcomed there almost before anywhere else in Broward County.

With 11,000 members, it's also a political hotspot for the city, and candidates from different races often come there to try and woo voters.

WLRN sat down with the church's Senior Pastor of nearly nine years, Marcus Davidson, to talk about the history, challenges, and the church's future plans  for issues like security while praying, and looming development in the neighborhood.

WLRN: What was the cultural climate in the city like when the first parishioners walked in here to pray?

DAVIDSON: The church has seen racial injustice, and I think the hundred year history is quite evident that we have persevered. What I've seen in our church is nothing has ever stopped us from persevering - and I think that is the character of who we are. We have a 'we'll never give up' attitude.

Recently, a gunman opened fire in a synagogue, a place of worship, in Pittsburgh. And three years ago there was a shooting at a black church in Charleston. How do you talk to your congregation about such horrific events like these?

Our hearts do go out to our brothers and sisters of the Jewish community, our hearts go out to those who were in Carolina who experienced such vile behavior. We talk about it in the sense that, that is the unfortunate reality of the world in which we live.

Being an African-American church we understand the gravity of that situation - and being an influential African-American church - it does put somewhat of a target on us. But we also make sure that we take the necessary precautions as well.

What can you tell your congregants when they ask questions like, 'where was God?'

That's a major major question. And because I believe in God - the way that I believe in God - I say that God was right where God always is.

We can't let the hate and vile behaviors of others remove us from a place of love, and stop us from being the difference maker is that we know we need to be.

What makes this space such a cultural and worship powerhouse for the city?

Without question the church is a very prominent church. Most people who are running for any office, they deem it quite necessary for them to come through - because we have people in all three counties that vote, that are vocal, we are visible.

And so you have members in Palm Beach County in Miami Dade County as well, that come here for services?

I've met members who drive as far as an hour away to come here and worship on Sundays, so we have an expansive, you know, group of people that come. They come from all around, and I think all of that helps us to be a vital part of this community. And we're one of the largest African-American churches in Broward County.

Read More: Fort Lauderdale's Sistrunk Is Booming. Does That Mean Longtime Residents Will Be Priced Out?

What are some of the highlights, or major moments, in the church's 100-year history?

Probably one of the greatest theological minds of our day, Dr. Mack King Carter - He was probably one of the most notable voices of South Florida, and the nation.

He led the search 27 years. He literally had interaction with U.S. presidents consistently, and I am the one who succeeded him.

Why do you think this church has been able to keep going for 100 years, why is it still here?

The spirituality and the social consciousness. We have a nonprofit, Mt. Olive Development Corporation, where we have big emphasis on HIV AIDS. We feed the homeless - It's more interactive involvement.

New Mt. Olive's building is just off of Sistrunk Boulevard, and it's in the heart of the Sistrunk neighborhood. There's a lot of new building and development slated for this area over the next two years. How is this affecting the church?

Potentially, we're going to be a part of that whole building process. You know, we have been contemplating building ourselves. And we do see a lot happening, we hear a lot that's going on, and we are engaged in a lot of this going on.

But what is definitely sure, we're not leaving. No, we're not going anywhere. I think I can say without reservation, the city would rather be here than not.

It's necessary for us to be here, it's necessary for us to be here to continue to make a spiritual impact, a social impact, political impact. Our goal is to be firmly fitted and planted in this community that whatever changes take place whatever happens, we're going to be that spiritual epicenter, if you will.