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Pastors of Different Races Merge Churches and Release New Book to Help Heal Racial Divides (EUR EXCLUSIVE!)
*In 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “11 ‘o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour, in Christian America.”
The civil rights leader’s famed quote was in reference to of course just how segregated church services were, and in many cases still are, across the United States.
Hoping to bridge this wide gap, in 2016, Pastors Derrick Hawkins (African American) and Jay Stewart (Caucasian American) decided to merge their racially separate congregations into The Refuge Church in North Carolina.
The recently released book, “Welded: Forming Racial Bonds That Last,” co-authored by the pastors, chronicles their relationship and what led to this racial reckoning. (Buy book now).
“We are living in a time where there still is much division, anger, and confusion in our nation especially as it relates to racial unity,” Pastor Stewart said in an EUR phone interview. “The bottom line is that we have a very unique story and God has chosen to write a better narrative in the midst of all the confusion and anger.”
Pastor Stewart continued, “So, we have an opportunity to share our story but to also give practical guidelines for how people can build relationships with people who look different than they do. The subtitle of the book is ‘forming racial bonds that last’ and that’s really the reason we’ve written this book.”
Pastor Hawkins blames the media partly for the racial strife and sees their story as a positive alternative.
“I think there are so many different narratives going on across the media,” Pastor Hawkins told the EUR. “There are so many things that the enemy is trying to spread. We wanted a better narrative and not just a better story and to let people know that there are amazing things happening with the body of Christ that are positive.”
Guidelines in the book to start racial healing include practicing understanding others, respecting others’ opinions, getting out of one’s comfort zone, and committing to unity.
“We seek to understand more than we seek to be understood,” said Pastor Stewart. “So, we have to lay down our own agenda and really come to the table with the goal of understanding the other person. Secondly, we value the relationship more than being right. We live in a day where everybody feels that they have a right to their own opinion. One thing we’ve learned is that we lay down our rights because the relationship is more important.”
Pastor Stewart added, “We also have to break out of our comfort zones and be willing to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of others and if we do that we discover the most greatest and thrilling adventures in our relationship with Christ.”
Pastor Hawkins said of people coming together, “I live by the motto in Ephesians 4:3, just making unity a priority. We know that we don’t have the ability to create unity, but it is our job to project unity. Pastor Jay always said we want to take every opportunity to make unity a priority but also preserve it.”
“Unity doesn’t mean there’s an absence of disagreement, but we have the ability to protect unity at all costs,” added Pastor Hawkins. “And there’s a way to look at your own echo chamber to see what you can do to make sure you are building healthy relationships with people who don’t look the same as you.”
The recent presidential election and election in general showed that most white Christians favored Donald Trump and Republicans. This support has led many in the black community to believe that white Christians overwhelmingly support racism and other ideologies that divide the races. The pastors said political views should have no place in the church.
“The kingdom of heaven trumps any political party,” said Pastor Hawkins. “Our job is to always align people to the kingdom and those things that we know are biblical truth. That’s why Ephesians 4:3 is so important.”
“We’ve only chosen to focus on the things that we share in common,” said Pastor Stewart. “And those are the things that unite us in the word of God. Bottomline, our loyalty is to Jesus Christ and our loyalty is not to some political party or to some person and that’s the thing that unites us.”
Pastor Stewart and Pastor Hawkins met in 2014 and two years later the two merged their churches. The Refuge Church has three campuses in North Carolina- Kannapolis, NC (main campus), Salisbury, and Greensboro. Plus, an international location in Brazil.
Pastor Stewart heads the main campus, while Pastor Hawkins leads the Greensboro location. They often lead together in the church as one unit.
Here is a video clip regarding the merging.
If you have not noticed, the pastors are also of different ages. They maintain a close father-son relationship because, “I’m just incredibly cool,” said Pastor Stewart. “I just have a heart for the kingdom and age doesn’t matter to me. God just knit us together in a really special way. It’s never been an issue for me, and I don’t think it’s been an issue for him.”
“I grew up around my grandmothers and older individuals and I love gleaning from the wisdom from the generations,” Pastor Hawkins said. “There’s no future without the shoulders of the previous generations. Outside of white, black, political differences, chaos, and challenges, this man has poured into me and my life has been better because of his core and his relationship with the Holy Spirit.”
Steven Ivory: That Day I was Peggy ‘Mod Squad’ Lipton
*I didn’t care for Derek. He had the kind of nervous energy grown-ups attributed to kids who ate too much sugar.
He talked too much, laughed too loud, and despite Melvin’s mom’s edict for us to keep our 13 year-old selves close to home on that still, humid, lazy Oklahoma City Saturday afternoon—she said Melvin’s uncle was driving up from tiny Seminole, about 50 miles away from us—Derek kept insisting the three of us abandon our perch on the peeling white banister along the front porch of Melvin’s family’s faded lemon clapboard house and go hang out at Washington Park.
When it was clear we weren’t budging, Derek introduced another idea.
“Let’s play Mod Squad!”
“Cool,” said Melvin.
Before he or I could say anything else, Derek blurted, “I’m Linc!”
Like most children, those in my predominantly Black, Eastside neighborhood played pretend. You know—pretend to be someone or something you’re not: a cowboy, fireman, policeman, soldier. When we got older but still kids, we pretended to be characters from our favorite TV shows. After it made its premiere on ABC-TV in 1968, one of our favorite things to play was “The Mod Squad.”
The drama, starring 20-something white unknowns Michael Cole, Peggy Lipton and black newcomer Clarence Williams III, about a trio of young, hip undercover cops (“One Black, One White, One Blonde,” went the show’s catchphrase), might have seemed unbelievable, but in 1968, we desperately needed the escape.
Think things are crazy today? Consider 1968: On April 4th, six months before “Mod Squad”’s debut, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. It was one of the few times I saw mama cry. King’s murder cast a pall of anger, fear and hopelessness over black America, where, in several major cities, riots broke out.
That June, Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, younger brother of President John F. Kennedy and the man on whom Black America hung its last, anguished political hope, was gunned down during a campaign appearance at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the Viet Nam war, under the direction of President Lyndon Johnson, raged on.
At least “The Mod Squad”’s cool “counter culture” cops took a smidgen of edge off how Blacks felt about law enforcement. After all the horrific evening news images of Blacks being beaten water hosed and shot during the nation’s civil unrest, young Black America was more than ready to see a Soul Brother like Williams’s Lincoln “Linc” Hayes character, with his together ‘fro, dark glasses and super cool demeanor, sock it to white crooks. Clarence Williams would go on to an acting career of varied roles, notably, almost two decades later, as father to Prince‘s character in “Purple Rain.” But in ’68, he was Linc, whose dramatic running dive while chasing down a bad guy became the trademark move every young, male black “Mod Squad” fan imitated at least once.
But I’d never played “Mod Squad.” How could you, with no female around to be Lipton’s Julie Barnes? See, when it came to pretend, I was adamant about authenticity. Some people have an aversion to different foods on their plate touching; it was the same with me and playing pretend. It had to be right.
I remember attending a boy’s birthday party, where, in the backyard, some of the kids were playing pretend. There was Superman, “Kato” ( the sidekick to TV’s “Green Hornet,” portrayed on the show by a young unknown martial artist named Bruce Lee), the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch, somebody pretending to be Greg Morris’ character on “Mission Impossible” and 60s’ TV private eye, “Mannix.”
I found it all disgusting: Not in a million years would Mannix have ever been acquainted with the Human Torch. Ever.
I’d bully Tony, my younger brother, into joining me and our friend Donnie Minnis in pretending to be the Beatles: Would it kill you to stand here, hold that broom and be George Harrison? I’d assign Donnie to be John Lennon. I was always Paul. We didn’t have a Ringo. Okay, so I wasn’t always consistent in my insistence on authenticity.
After Derek jumped on being “Linc,” Melvin immediately said he’d be “Mod Squad”’s Cool White Boy, “Pete Cochran.” Then they looked at me. Uh uh. No way am I going to be the chick. I’m not a girl.
“But we just playin’,” Derek coyly pushed back. “You know I ain’t really Linc. Melvin ain’t that white cat. We just playin’.”
“Yeah, but…I ain’t doin’ it.”
We went back and forth about this, before Derek tossed a grenade into the mix: “…And we was gon’ play Mod Squad all the way to Grady’s,” he said, referring to the mid-sized trailer a few blocks away that had been permanentized by a cement foundation and plumbing into an air conditioned, counter seating-only diner serving burgers and hot dogs. “I was going to treat.” Melvin’s eyes widened. Again, he looked at me.
Shoot. I did not want to do this. I suspected Derek simply wanted me to be Julie Barnes in the name of humiliation.
But the stakes were high. A Grady’s hot dog, smothered in chili and onions, accessorized by a bag of Lay’s potato chips, all of it washed down with an ice cold grape Nehi pop, was no joke.
So I relented to being Julie Barnes. But I had rules. For one, they couldn’t call me Julie Barnes. No yelling out, “Let’s get outta here, Julie!” or “Duck, Julie, it’s a bomb!” None of that. Melvin’s mother agreed that he could go to Grady’s. However, coolness had its limits: she gave him some change and instructed him to at some point Mod Squad himself into Safeway and return with a bottle of Clorox.
Playing Mod Squad involved what playing pretend usually entailed: a lot of stylized running, peeking around the corners of trees, cars, buildings, and socking it out with imaginary crooks.
As Julie, I merely walked with the guys. Thanks to God’s divine mercy, on TV Julie Barnes never sashayed or was purposefully “sexy.” Indeed, Lipton’s character, which appeared perpetually contemplative and seldom smiled, was the first woman in a man’s world that I remember watching on TV who didn’t exist simply for the pleasure of men. She was a human being. Quiet, introspective.
We fought crime all the way to Safeway ’s massive parking lot, where we ran into Joseph Weeks. Fifteen, JW, as we called him, seemed even older, his maturity the result of stunning circumstances.
When his mother passed away suddenly, with no father in the house and apparently no extended family to speak of, JW and his two siblings–Pam and Jonathan, thirteen and fourteen, respectively–all working various jobs after school (where they made good grades), simply continued living in the ramshackle house on their own. They raised themselves.
Tall, lanky, handsome, smart, resourceful and dignified for a kid, JW always reminded me of a mashup of actor Jimmy Stewart in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and Gregory Peck in “To Kill A Mockingbird” were the combination Black and teenaged. JW’s dry humor could strike like a cobra. He didn’t suffer Derek’s silly antics easily, often putting Derek in his place, even when Derek didn’t always know it was happening.
“Wha’ chall doin.’”
“Playing Mod Squad,” said Melvin.
“Oh yeah? Who’s Linc?”
“I am,” Derek said proudly.
I’m the white boy….” Chimed Melvin.
“Just two Mod Squad?” JW asked. “Where’s the chick?” He looked at me. I looked away.
“We’re going to Grady’s,” Derek interjected, attempting to impress JW. “Wanna come? I’m buyin’….”
“Naw, I just ate.”
“Where you headed,’” I asked.
JW said he was going over to Darvin Bennett’s house, who, under the guidance of his dad, owned a monster Lionel train set, legendary in the neighborhood, that nearly took up their whole garage. “You wanna come?”
I looked at the Mod Squad. “I’m goin’ to Grady’s,” Melvin insisted, as if to say, no train set can compete with a hotdog smothered in chili and onions. And cheese. Melvin liked grated cheddar on his.
Derek’s covert glare at me said, Ima tell JW you’re Julie Barnes. Nervous, I braced myself for the ridicule…that never came. Derek didn’t say boo about me being Julie. I bailed on the Squad for JW and the train set, but not without finding new love for Derek that day, for keeping his mouth shut.
While taking an alley shortcut to Darvin’s, we came upon a group of kids I didn’t know. Turns out, they were playing Justice League of America, D.C. Comics’ collective of superhero crimefighters, the comic book’s original version of which included, among others, Superman, Batman, Aquaman and The Flash. JW knew the kid who, as Green Lantern, seemed to be running things.
Unlike the usual pretend-play, where the enemy is imaginary, these kids were about to head over to the grounds of Woodson Elementary, where another group of kids—evil space invaders—were waiting to do battle. At stake was dominion of the Universe.
JW’s buddy said that, were we interested, we could round out the League. “We could use a Batman,” the kid said matter-of-factly. “We had one, but he had to go home and cut the grass….”
“I’ll be Batman,” I perked up.
“No, I’ll be Batman,” said JW.
“Nope, I said it first. I’m Batman.”
JW waited until his friend walked away and then turned to me. “Now, niggarito,” he undertoned firmly, “I just rescued yo’ Black ass from being a white woman. I’m GON’ be Batman, motherfucka.”
So JW was hip all along. That he knew I was Julie Barnes back there and never said anything made him my real life hero.
Robin the Boy Wonder wasn’t in the original Justice League, but what’s a small discrepancy among super friends?
Fast forward nine years to Los Angeles, 1977. I’m standing in the lobby of the Music Center downtown swigging Heineken with Ed Eckstein, then running Quincy Jones Productions. We’re awaiting the start of a concert for jazz-rock band Return To Forever, when Ecktein’s famous boss, with whom I’d become acquainted through my young career as a music journalist, suddenly appears. He’s not alone.
“Steve, have you met Peggy?” Quincy asks, just as she walks up. It’s…it’s Julie Barnes! Only it’s not Julie Barnes, it’s Peggy Lipton. Casually chic in a flowing white summer dress and immediately personable, the actress is nothing like her old Mod Squad character. For one thing, Lipton smiles. “Hi ya doin,’” she says, extending a small hand that executes a firm handshake.
So taken was I to meet Lipton that I’m sure I didn’t give proper respect to another introduction Quincy made to me right after Lipton: his runnin’ buddy standing right there, legendary composer Henry Mancini, with his wife, singer Virginia O’Connor-Mancini.
It was all over in a matter of minutes, the surreal encounter. Soon, Eckstein and I were in our seats digging the ferocious musicianship of RTF’s Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White and Al Di Meola. The concert climaxed with an encore of Stevie Wonder being led onstage to join the quartet for a perfunctory rendition of Wonder’s “Superstition,” made exciting only by the unexpected presence of Wonder himself.
I enjoyed it all immensely. But even before Wonder’s arrival, in my mind, the night’s music had been relegated to serving as soundtrack to sentimental memories. All I could think about was childhood buddies Melvin, Derek and JW, and the fact that I’d just met Ms. Mod Squad. After the concert Eckstein and I headed into Hollywood for Greenblatt’s deli, when what I really craved was a Grady’s hot dog with chili. And plenty onions. END
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]
Steven Ivory: D.J. Rogers: ‘Say You Love Me’ Singer Gone, But Not Forgotten + Exclusive Bobby Holland Photos
*It was sometime in 1978, just after midnight at Total Experience Recording Studios in the heart of Hollywood, and through gigantic wall sound monitors, D.J. Rogers was blasting a track called “Love Brought Me Back.”
The singer/songwriter/keyboardist had invited me and Bobby Holland—fledgling Soul Newspaper music journalist and the paper’s staff photographer, respectively–to hear his new music, and we were eager to oblige.
We didn’t even bother to drop off our dates. After taking them to a concert at the Roxy Theatre, we simply brought the ladies with us to the studio.
D.J. didn’t mind. The more ears, the better. In the studio, there was just the five of us—six, if you count Gap Band bassist Robert Wilson, quietly intoxicated more than any human should ever be, who periodically wandered in and out of the studio to take an approving listen.
The then portly Rogers, in a wine colored, long sleeve button down dress shirt and gray slacks, alternated between sitting behind the studio sound board turning knobs and occasionally standing up and rocking to the music, occasionally firing off soulful vocal ad-libs with the groove.
And “Love Brought Me Back” was quite the groove. A mid-tempo arrangement driven by a chugging, funky rhythm section and a choir’s worth of joyously singing background session voices, all of it accented by dramatic, majestic strings charted by virtuoso arranger Jerry Peters, “Love Brought Me Back,” was more than the title song of D.J.’s fifth album and his first for Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White ’s Columbia-distributed ARC label; the big, anthemic track represented the jubilant declaration of one man’s resilience through funny money, bad record deals and assorted personal woe, to rise back up.
The lyric said “Love” brought him back, but since D.J. never wrote a secular song that wasn’t a lyric away from being uncut gospel, you knew who he was really singing about.
Recorded in parallel “Woods”—at Total Experience studio, owned by black music impresario, the late Lonnie Simmons, D.J.’s manager at the time, in Hollywood, and Ike Turner’s legendary Bolic Sound facility in Inglewood–the album was going to be D.J.’s undisputed breakout. At least, that’s how Bobby and I felt that night, and we told a beaming D.J. as much.
I love DeWayne Julius Rogers. I say this in present tense because, while he passed away on August 22, D.J. hasn’t gone anywhere. Through eight R&B albums, plenty yet-to- be-released R&B material and extensive recorded work in gospel genre, Mr. Rogers is still here, moving and inspiring us with his music.
Here, I choose to honor D.J. by sharing parcels of memories I have of the man.
First: freely I admit that over the years, during the hundreds of times I’ve played D.J.’s sentimental “Say You Love Me,” I’ve often listened through tears. Who wouldn’t want to feel about somebody what D.J. expresses in the song?
While “Say You Love Me” has been recorded by Natalie Cole and Jennifer Holliday, unwittingly, it’s D.J. himself who keeps his song from being covered over and again.
That’s because a cover can’t do “Say You Love Me” justice. What appears simple is a masterpiece of subtle, intricate chording and the melding of a capable rhythm section, sweetened by the harmonics of one Keith Hatchell on bass. That arrangement possess a feel that will remain elusive.
And then there’s D.J. Explaining and pleading, his folksy, impassioned delivery transforms often downright corny lyrics into sheer, unmitigated swooning romance. Again: who wouldn’t want to feel that way about somebody?
D.J. was down to earth. Funny. Kept me laughing throughout our 1975 interview at RCA’s Hollywood building. The label had just released It’s Good To Be Alive—featuring “Say You Love Me”—D.J.’s second album after he’d released his first on songwriter Leon Russell’s Tulsa-based Shelter label (where he worked with a fledgling Gap Band; it was D.J. who introduced them to Lonnie Simmons, who in turn launched Gap, downsized to Charlie, Ronnie and Robert Wilson, into a run of hits), and he was hopeful.
That year I was at the Troubadour in West Hollywood when D.J. and his band nearly burned the place down during a rollicking, two-set one-night-stand. Onstage, you couldn’t fuck with D.J.
He’s from the church. That’s all you have to say, really. If you’re a musician in the church, you learn how to make people feel the Spirit. That ability is indispensable.
From Los Angeles, his father was a minister and singer. D.J., self-taught on piano, nurtured his skills in various choirs, including that of the legendary Reverend James Cleveland.
And Rogers was a masterful squaller—that time-honored, soul-stirring vocal technique passed down through black gospel lineage over the centuries.
Best described as a cross between the sound of a guttural shout and someone trying to clear their throat of phlegm while somebody is choking them (okay, so it’s not the best description), a great squaller, like a gale force wind, can set a listener back on their heels. D.J. would unleash his squall during “Bulah Jean,” his churchy, drama-filled, heart-tugging show-stopper about a poor, saintly childhood friend, and bring the house down.
In L.A. I’d go see Rogers anywhere: the Simmons-owned Total Experience nightclub on Crenshaw Blvd; The Name Of The Game Jr., over on Slauson (I think)—and always left a venue pleased and ever astounded by D.J.’s gift.
Often referred to as the west coast’s Donny Hathaway, vocally Rogers could “run” his ass off. I was at the Shrine Auditorium in 1977 when, during one of those zillion-R&B-acts-on-one-bill shows (Ohio Players protégé band funk band Faze-O opened the evening, playing their hit “Riding High”), an up and coming Peabo Bryson was closing his set with “Feel The Fire,” when out of the wings, mic in hand, emerged D.J. Rogers. The two went toe-to-toe trading thunderous vocal runs and ad-lbbs (“OoooOOOOhhhhh!”… “OOOOooohhhhhh!”) like two soul singing gunslingers. It lasted all of a minute. The Auditorium was on its feet.
Not only a perceptive singer, writer and keyboardist, D.J. was also a great bandleader who trusted the players he chose.
“D.J. would just let me go,” says the legendary bassist Keni Burke, whose artful moaning, bending and string-popping holds down the funky bottom on D.J.’s “Love Brought Me Back.” An alumnus of the iconic ‘70s sibling group The Five Stairsteps (“Ooh Child”), Burke went on to become a solo artist and producer whose 1982 hit, “Risin’ To The Top,” is one of the most sampled tracks of all time.
“He inspired the musicians he worked with,” says Burke, “because he’d let you do your thing. The rhythm track on ‘Love Brought Me Back?’ We cut that in one take. D.J. rehearsed us a few times, and then we recorded it. He didn’t spend time doing something over and over; you wanna capture that fire on the track. I loved D.J.; he was like a big brother to me.”
Indeed, both gospel and secular music communities revered Rogers. Among the great players who insisted D.J. guest on their recordings–Patrice Rushen, who duets with Rogers during the wicked prowl, “Givin’ It Up Is Givin’ Up” from her 1979 album, Pizzazz.
Alas, Love Brought Me Back, a vital LP in the Rogers canon, wasn’t the commercial success it deserved to be. That—the idea that an artist as brilliantly talented as D.J. never broke out—is not only Rogers’ story, but the unfortunate tale of a multitude of deserving acts whose recording careers were shortchanged by a music industry that historically took more than it gave.
Thankfully, an often dastardly business didn’t stop D.J. Rogers from creating work that every true lover of soul music deserves to hear.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]
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