The Birth of a Denomination, Part 3: Black Adventist Leaders Today
by Sydney Freeman, Jr., Ph.D., CFD, COI
Authors Note: This article, part 3 of 3, is an excerpt from sermons delivered at Moscow Seventh-day Adventist church in Moscow, Idaho in February 2016, and Bethany Seventh-day Adventist church in Montgomery, Alabama in February 2015. Read part 1 here. Read part 2 here.
Blacks Adventist ministers have served the church as some of the greatest evangelist the church and I dare say the world has ever seen. Including individuals such as Pastors Charles Bradford, E.E. Cleveland, C.D. Brooks, Walter Pearson, and Carlton Byrd. We also have contributed to the theological underpinning of the church. Dr. Owen Troy was the first person of any color in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination to earn a Doctorate of Theology, which he obtained from the University of Southern California in 1958.
And even through racial inequity Black people have created institutions within the church to enhance God’s work. Several main examples include Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. A school established by Ellen White to serve in the uplift of African American since 1896. And serves as the only Seventh-day Adventist historically Black College or University in the Nation. Additionally, Pine Forge Academy, where I went to high school remains as one of the remaining four historically Black boarding high schools. Message magazine, established in 1898 remains the oldest running Black-led religious periodical in the United States. And Breath of Life ministries remains one of the most successful Black run religious programs in the world.
Modern Black Adventist Leaders
However, as we move to the last scenes of the movie I would highlight modern Adventist that are making significant contributions to the church such as Ella Simmons, the first female vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist, Ron Smith, the first African American president of the Southern Union. Additionally, did you know that Carmela Monk became the first female editor of one of the longest running Black periodicals in North America, Message magazine. So to all the young people in our church these individuals demonstrate that you can become anyone you want to be!
But you don’t have to work for the church to make a contribution to the world and be Seventh-day Adventist. You can stand up for civil rights like Senate Chaplain Barry Black or you can become a scholar that finds ways to solve problems that negatively affect the poor and vulnerable like, Dr. David Williams at Harvard University. Or inspire people with your words like Dr. Eric Thomas, the hip hop preacher, or sing around the world like Wintley Phipps, or gospel groups Committed, Take 6, and Virtue. The sky is the limit.
Some of you are probably still asking why would a movie like this be important and why I do believe it is important to pass down the true legacy of the church and are families. Two years ago when one of the senior members of my family passed away I attended their funeral and found out that one of my distant relatives was the president of Jackson State University during the great depression and another distant relative had taught Martin Luther King, Jr. math at Morehouse College. This was an amazing discovery! I have attended and researched about Historically Black Colleges and Universities for the last eight years. Specifically, improving leadership and teaching at these institutions and I had people in my lineage that were professors and presidents and I did not even know it. It forever changed the way I view myself. And has helped me to redouble my efforts to leave a legacy.
Climax and Conclusion
And that leads me to the conclusion which is about us and especially the children. What will your legacy be? What are you going to do to make this world a better place? God has given you wonderful examples of greatness. God requires of us to manage and steward our gifts. I charge you as the reader to 1) Learn your history remember and 2) Be intentional about passing on our (biblical, denominational, and familial) history. We need to follow the admonition of the bible where it says in Psalms 78:4, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”
As we know the history of our church is not perfect. But we serve a perfect God who made a covenant promise to us and if we heed his instruction. We have a hope that we will raise up a generation of leaders rightly trained to finish the work. It does not matter what your background is God can use all of us.
Dr. Sydney Freeman, Jr., is an associate professor at the University of Idaho. He serves on the Board of Directors of the American Association of University Administrators, which honored him with the “2015 Emergent Leader of the Year” award. He is managing editor of the Journal of HBCU Research + Culture, and is founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education.