UMC Pastors Remember African American Heroes
By: Sherri Gragg
Pastors in the Texas conference reflect on how their African American heroes have inspired their ministries.
Dr. Martin Luther King was inarguably the most influential figure in the Civil Rights Movement. However, in a 1962 article for New York Amsterdam News, he pointed to ordinary citizens as the true heroes of the movement. “There must be literally thousands of unknown heroes across our Southland,” he said. (“People in Action: Unknown Heroes.” New York Amsterdam News, May 10, 1962) King’s reflections remind us of the power of faithful individuals to inspire the next generation to pursue justice.
Join us as pastors from the Texas Conference share the stories of their African American heroes, and how those men and women influenced their ministries.
Rev. Marvin Hood, Pastor of Newgate Fellowship UMC
In 1978, young Marvin Hood was reading his copy of the prison newspaper when came across a quote by Fredrick Douglas on the power of self-determination. “For after all, our destiny is largely in our own hands. If we find, we shall have to seek. If we succeed in the race of life, it must be by our own energies, our own exertions…” (“Our Destiny is Largely in Our Own Hands: An Address Delivered in Washington, D.C., on 16 April 1833.” Fredrick Douglas)
Through Douglas’ words, Hood realized that he had a somber responsibility to be a good steward of the life God had given him. “I was in prison,” Hood said. “and I realized how much time I had wasted.” Hood was determined that he would invest the rest of his life well. He took Douglas’ powerful words of inspiration to the prison librarian and asked her to mount the quote on cardboard for safekeeping. She cut the article out of the newspaper, and glued it to the back of a manila folder. In the many years of fruitful ministry that have followed, Hood has always kept the keepsake close. It rests in a place of honor on his desk even today.
Tabitha Rankin, Chaplin of Wylie College
Rev. Tabitha Rankin has a long list of African American heroes, but the one who outshines them all is her maternal grandmother, Mirtie Reece Mock, whom she called “Madea.” Rankin’s grandmother taught her grandchildren to love and serve the Lord, but her intentional discipleship was not limited to family. She was also a faithful guide to countless men and women in her community, urging each of them to use their gifts and talents to fulfill their God-ordained purposes.
Today, Rankin is the chaplain of Wylie College where she helps mold the African American leaders of tomorrow. She credits her beloved grandmother with encouraging her in the pursuit ordained ministry. “One of the hardest things I have ever done was leave home to attend seminary 1,200 miles away. The last thing my grandmother said to me was, “Tabitha, I am proud of you. Do what God has asked you to do. My unsung hero is Madea.”
Rev. Mary Shotlow, Pastor of St. Paul’s Anahuac and St. James Anahuac
Rev. Mary Shotlow entered a whole new world when, as a young woman, she left tiny Anderson, Texas to attend Prairie View A&M University. Gone was her small-town life that revolved around church, family, and her parent’s restaurant. The door to education and experience had been thrown open wide.
But she was also taking another journey alongside the rest of America. Our country was leaving behind the legacy of Jim Crow, segregation, and injustice as it strained toward a future of equality. In that season of change, Shotlow met her unsung hero, Rev. Dr. Robin McGee, the director of her campus Wesley Foundation.
McGee saw something special in Shotlow and he determined to open the door of opportunity for her wherever possible. Eventually, he nominated her to be a leader among black college students in Texas. As a part of that experience, the young girl from a town of 500, who had never even been near an airplane, boarded a flight to Illinois. During her time there, she had the opportunity to work alongside some of the most prominent figures in the Civil Rights movement including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Vernon Jordan. “The experience gave me exposure,” Shotlow said, “I was inspired to help people exercise their rights in a peaceful way.”
Rev. David Briggs, Pastor of Abundant Life Lufkin
Rev. David Briggs has found tremendous inspiration in the life and works of author James Baldwin. Although Baldwin’s works are extensive, he was most well-known for his 1953 novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain. “I admire his passion for truth telling in a time when it wasn’t necessarily rewarding,” Briggs said. “His determination to tell the truth from a broken heart has encouraged me to speak the truth as well, even when it isn’t popular.”
Briggs also considers Rev. Kenneth Levingston, pastor of Jones Memorial UMC, an important role model for his ministry. “He has a passion for the local church. He travels all across the conference to encourage pastors, to remind us why we are a church. He has a pastoral heart.”