Fans Celebrate Whitney Houston at Her Hometown Church

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Fans' Tribute to White Houston Outside New Hope Baptist Church - Photo by Kenneth Ware, Jr.

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By Kenneth Ware, Jr.
Whitney Houston’s childhood church in Newark, New Jersey became home to a memorial for fans to pay respect to the singer.

Houston, 48, died February 11, on the eve of the Grammy Awards. She had been expected to attend a pre-Grammy gala but was found dead hours before the event in a Beverly Hilton hotel room in Los Angeles. The cause of her death is expected to be released following results of a toxicology report in a few weeks.

Judith Mayo, 42, has always been a fan of Houston. She was shocked when she first heard the news.

“I could not believe it,” Mayo said. “I could not digest the information.”

Mayo was one of hundreds of fans who made New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, NJ a sanctuary for flowers, balloons, candles and hand written notes of encouragement for the Houston family.

Houston grew up singing in New Hope Baptist Church.

“I really wanted to come down here and pay my respect to this great lady,” Mayo said.

People from across the nation gathered around the church to celebrate Houston.

“It is pretty amazing that people are here from all over the world,” Mayo said.

Messages on the posters and cards left on the curb adjacent to the church depicted Houston’s lyrics and personalized messages from her beloved fans.

Diane Gregory, 24, brought her 4-year-old daughter to the church.

“My daughter is too young to know what is actually happening now,” Gregory said. “But I am positive Houston’s music will help her through a break-up or when she finds love.”

Mayo said it is hard to pick one song as her favorite from Houston’s vast catalog, but one soundtrack has a special place in her heart.

“I really enjoy the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack,” Mayo said.

As the sun beamed brightly, a group of fans decided to sing the lyrics to I Will Always Love You. The crowd began to clap and sing outside the red brick church.

“She was simply amazing,” Mayo said.

Houston ruled as pop music’s queen until her voice and image started to fade and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, drug use and erratic behavior were captured in the tabloids.

Darrell Sessions, 57, is a former bodyguard. He has worked for Aretha Franklin, Bill Cosby, Donna Summer and Richard Pryor.

Early reports speculated that Houston died from a deadly combination of prescription drugs and alcohol.

Sessions said it is the bodyguard’s duty to protect the client at all times.

“Being the Christian that I am, it is my job to protect them physically and mentally,” Sessions said.

He is no stranger to drug use in the entertainment industry.

“I have worked with different entertainers who used drugs and I would always advise them not to,” Sessions said.

Houston’ funeral was a memorable home going. The invitation-only ceremony aired live on numerous cable channels.

The National Enquirer has received backlash for publishing photos of Houston in her casket.

“The tabloids are awful,” Mayo said.

Despite some negative press reports, fans will continue to celebrate Houston’s contributions to the world of entertainment versus dwelling on the challenges she endured throughout her life.

“Above it all, she was a talented and beautiful African-American woman who loved Jesus,” Sessions said.

Social Media Correspondents
The Social Media Correspondents use multiple social media platforms to report on pertinent issues. The founding editor is journalist and Texas Southern University Journalism Professor Serbino Sandifer-Walker @sswalker (Twitter). *We are the first team in the nation, with a professional and collegiate news group, to use multiple social media as a reporting tool. We tell stories dynamically using a myriad of social and multimedia platforms. We are especially interested in telling under told stories in underserved communities. We use mobile phones and tablets to capture video, audio, photos and live events in the communities we cover. We live tweet and have a newsfeed on Twitter at #TwitterNewsChat. We're always thinking outside of the box.

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