On a recent hot muggy day in Houston, more than 2,400 people ventured to a cornerstone church in Sunnyside to celebrate the life of 94-year old Rev. Dr. Johnnie Jeffrey Roberson. Mt. Hebron Missionary Baptist Church stands as a place of refuge and a pillar in the community thanks to Roberson. He founded the church in 1958 and retired 50 years later.
His obituary reads like a well-crafted novel. In fact his life story is just that.
Roberson had a small frame but was large in stature. The mere fact that hundreds of ministers from across the city, state and nation gathered out of respect and in his honor speaks volumes. Throw in the throngs of local elected officials, including Mayor Annise Parker, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Congressman Al Green, State Sen. Rodney Ellis, State Representatives Alma Allen, Sylvester Turner and Ron Reynolds, Controller Ronald Green and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.
While this list is impressive, the hundreds of current and former church members and people from across the community are who inspired Roberson the most.
“He came up in a time when the Black Church needed men with no fear. Dr. Roberson show us how to lead and he certainly had not fear.”
Thanks to Roberson’s leadership, Mt. Hebron has been and continues to be a mecca of community activism. This man who was repeatedly described as a “great man of God” was also a champion for the community.
He served his country as a member of the U.S. Army in World War II; he is the former president of the Baptist Minister’s Association of Houston and the former Moderator of the Independent Missionary Baptist Church General Association of Texas and many other groups and organizations along the way. Roberson was honored by numerous organizations for his work and leadership.
Dr. Stephen Thurston, pastor of New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, said Roberson never missed an opportunity to touch and make a difference in someone’s life. “He came up in a time when the Black Church needed men with no fear. Dr. Roberson show us how to lead and he certainly had not fear.”
Lee talked about his not only his spiritual leadership but his activism as well. “We have lost a real champion for civil rights and the vulnerable in Houston and in Texas in the loss of Rev. J.J. Roberson,” Lee said. “Whenever there was an indignity or violation and undermining of the civil rights of Houstonians and Texans, Rev. J.J. Roberson was at the front of the fight.”
She joined Green in reading a letter from President Obama and his wife Michelle to Roberson’s wife of nearly 71 years.
If you ran for office and needed votes in Houston, especially from the African American community, you likely visited Mt. Hebron and the good Reverend Roberson – his endorsement made the difference in campaigns.
Allen talked about the many elected officials, including mayors and governors, who sought counsel and support from Roberson. If you ran for office and needed votes in Houston, especially from the African American community, you likely visited Mt. Hebron and the good Rev. Roberson – his endorsement made the difference in campaigns.
Roberson was firm but had a great sense of humor. If you knew him, you likely have a personal story about him. Far from perfect, he was a just man. One person said he had functional intelligence. Another called it wisdom. Many spoke of his vision and all spoke of his passion and commitment.
Paige said he was instrumental in his life and his decision to become Superintendent of the Houston Independent School District. He was not only a strong and dedicated leader, but also a friend and mentor.
Roberson passed the baton of leading Mt. Hebron to pastor Max Miller four years ago. As he eulogized his uncle, pastor and confidant, Miller said, “He often told me: Old soldiers never die – they just fade away!” Roberson faded away on July 10, 2012, and left an indelible mark on the community he loved and served.
Kim Davis is a seasoned journalist with nearly two decades of experience covering sports, news and politics in television, radio and print. She’s a talk show host, keynote speaker, media coach, entrepreneur and health and fitness enthusiast. If you have questions or comments for Kim or about “Chalk Talk," you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.