It's just a few minutes to 3 p.m. on Sunday and Deacon Forrest Sawyer and Deaconess Sharon Sawyer of Early Hope Baptist Church, still dressed in their Sunday finest, are conferring in the small hallway of community radio station 1430 WGFS AM in Covington. They look for all the world like nothing more than two kindly, middle-aged church folks.
They fish out pieces of paper and flyers from folders, Bibles and pockets and pat down their forehead with a cloth hankie. As the opening strains of a rollicking gospel choir play overhead, the Sawyers quickly settle into their squeaky armchairs in front of the microphone. In a moment, they're on the air with another edition of their weekly radio show "Thy Brother's and Sister's Keeper," opening with prayer and community announcements and music.
And then, they warm up.
The Sawyers, who host the show live from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Sunday, are long time community activists who, throughout the '60s and '70s, participated in numerous civil rights events around the South.
Forrest Sawyer was a former president of the Newton County Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He and Sharon founded the African-American Historical Association of Newton County two years ago, and he serves as the president while Sharon is vice president and sits on the board.
So when the possibility of accessing some radio time became available, they were immediately interested in using the airwaves not only as a educational tool for the AAHANC, but also to reach out to the community and minister, particularly to those who don't attend a church or might not be able to, such as the sick and elderly.
They consulted their pastor, Kenneth Williams, at Early Hope Baptist, who not only gave them his blessing but was their first guest.
"We're not preachers," said Forrest. "We're just members of the flock."
"On a mission," added Sharon, with a laugh.
"In tradition, you go to church every Sunday," said Sharon, "but church should be with you everyday. Now, the way the radio program has come into our lives, it's another way we can reach people without being in the four-walls confinement of the church."
The show, a mix of gospel music, community announcements and biblically based lessons, began on Palm Sunday as a half hour show at 1 p.m. and eventually moved to its present hour-long 3 p.m. time slot.
"Our ultimate goal, of course, is to bring souls to Jesus. That was the main focus of the program," said Sharon. "But we also want to bring forth an outlet for our people to know what's going on now, what's going on in the past and what will be going on in the future. We want to inform our community of the different programs that will help them in their everyday life."
The Sawyers also use the airwaves to discuss issues that they see need to be addressed in the community, and they don't hold back.
On this day, the theme is "Going and Growing with God." They discuss the importance of raising a child well while they're young so they can avoid trouble as they get older. Forrest promotes reading to young kids and enrolling them in The Learning Center's Imagination Library program, which mails a child under five years old one free book a month.
Sharon bemoans parents who don't talk about issues with their kids like the AIDS epidemic and chastises young people who are still having unprotected sex in this day and age, her voice rising in consternation.
"And this is on our watch," said Forrest, chiding the listeners.
"Our watch," said Sharon, emphatically.
"And God is going to hold us responsible. He's going to hold us responsible for not saying something to that little brother and little sister to straighten up on the right path. And it doesn't cost anything. It doesn't have to be your biological child," said Forrest.
Other topics they bring up during the show include teenage pregnancy, girl gangsters, incarcerated juveniles, the high number of incarcerated black men and men of color and the vicious cycle that breed generations of "jailbirds" in a family.
When asked if listeners are ever upset with them for bringing up such sensitive topics, Forrest Sawyer, says emphatically that listeners thank them and want them to bring these topics up.
"Most of the topics, when we bring it up, it's something that we've experienced or someone close to us or someone in the community experienced," said Forrest.
The Sawyers, who have two adopted foster kids among their seven grown children, have experienced some of the hardships in raising children who don't have a good foundation earlier in life.
The Sawyers hope to have more young guests on the show, to encourage them to discuss and speak out on issues, and will have State Representative Tyrone Brooks as a guest for their next show on July 15.
To listen to the show, tune in on Sundays at 3 p.m. - 4 p.m. on 1430 WGFS-AM or online at www.mycaribbeanradio.com.