Journal of the People’s Pastor

“Writing The History I’ve Lived, Living The History I Write!”


The Passing of Giants of the Human Spirits
Judge John L. Phillips, Jr. and Minister Lindsey Reynolds

After being arrested for blocking the street in front of the Chinese Mission on Tuesday, 2/19/08, on Wednesday, 2/20/08, I spoke to students, professors, staff and activists at Kean College in NJ on the crises in Darfur. On Thursday, 2/21/08, at 6:35am I boarded USAir for Augusta, Georgia, via Charlotte NC. At 2pm I eulogized Minister Lindsey Reynolds. He died on 2/13/08. He had been a friend and a longtime member of our church. For 42 years, he had been as faithful as the sunrise. He became a member as I was being consecrated the Bishop or the National Presiding Minister of our Churches.

On Friday, 2/22/08, after spending the day taking care of various business obligations, I went to a basketball game. It was the Regional High School Championship Game. Glen Hill won the game by a large margin. Glen Hill has a young star name Christopher, we call him Chris. He is the grandson of the deceased. In fact, I was driven to the game by the wife of the deceased, Minister Betty Reynolds. In moving details, she gave me the information on Brother Reynolds’ last few weeks up until the final moment when he passed. She said he said to her, “I’m ready to go home.”

To return to Chris, many, many years before, I had played ball with him, maybe he was about 9 or 10. I used to play in the park with the young fellows whenever I was in Augusta, GA. Of course, I still play in Brooklyn and New Jersey parks and gyms. I saw in Chris an extraordinary talent. I told him, “Boy, you are good, really, really good. If you continue to play and improve, you are going to be a superstar.” Watching him play, I thought to myself, there is at least one prediction that I made which came true. I whispered a prayer that God would grant me the years to see him play in the Atlantic Yard Arena a few blocks from my Church.

On February 23, 2008, I caught the 6am USAir Flight #1040 to Charlotte, NC, then to LaGuardia, New York. I was picked up by my wife, Dr. Karen, at 10am and driven to Penn Station. After lunch, we boarded Amtrak for Washington, DC arriving at 3:30pm. We were driven by our driver to pick up my daughter, Leah. We drove to the home of Ms. Alexis Herman, former CEO of the 1992 Democratic National Convention and Secretary of Labor during the Clinton Presidency. She lives in Virginia.

There was a reception for Leah sponsored by Ms. Herman and a group of very influential young ladies of African Ancestry who call themselves, the “Colored Girls.” It was a gathering of some of the most prominent people in America. My wife and I could not contain our emotions as we heard our daughter praised. When we were called on to speak, our words were highly emotional. We thanked everybody for their support for Leah. We thanked our daughter for being the person she is and always has been.

It was 8:30pm when we boarded Amtrak for Penn Station. We returned home around 2am. It had been an exciting, challenging 24 hours. It is representative of the kind of time in which we live. Within 24 hours, I had had seven (7) car rides, two (2) plane rides, and two (2) train rides. I had been in six (6) states. It called to mind the year we concluded a three (3) years study with the World Council of Churches in Bangkok, Thailand. Having concluded the Conference, I decided to make some other visits. I had breakfast in Saigon, Vietnam, where I met with church leaders, visited hospitals and talked with veterans. I had lunch in Singapore, where I conferred with business and community leaders, and I had dinner in Jakarta, Indonesia. In the evening of the same day after dinner, I spoke to religious, political and community leaders.

The Bible says, “In the last days they shall run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased.” We interpret that “in the last days” travel will be speedily extensive and knowledge will be rapidly and comprehensively increased. When we study events of the past 75 years, who can argue with the incredible advances and discoveries that we have made. In this age of rocket travel, it’s hard to believe that less than 100 years ago, people were still riding horse and buggy.

On Sunday, starting at 8am, I did three (3) worship services at my church, including the 36th Anniversary of our Usher’s Board. On Monday, the 25th, I attended the Sean Bell trial in Queens.
While I was in Georgia, information reached me would our church be available for a funeral for Judge John L. Phillips? By the time I responded, arrangements had already been made. Judge Phillips died on 2/13/08. The excerpts from his obituary read:

“The Honorable John L. Phillips passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, February 16, 2008, from circumstances unknown. Phillips known as the Kung-Fu Judge, for his habits of employing marshal arts moves on the bench, was born April 10, 1924 to his beloved parents, John Sr. and Icie Mason. He grew up on a Kansas farm, and lived in Ohio. He served in the Army Infantry during WWII but never saw combat.

He worked his way through Wilberforce University and later Akron Law College where he obtained a law degree. An avid traveler, Phillips went to China and Japan, studying the marshal arts, eventually developing his own school of combat, something he called the Gorilla-Gnat System of Scientific Movement and Defensive Fighting. He taught the style for 15 years in a dojo on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.

His accomplishments were many. He was the first Black man admitted to the Montana State Bar and was a 10th degree black belt. He became a self-made millionaire buying up real estate in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn; ran for Judgeship in Brooklyn Civil Court in 1976 as the anti-machine candidate: He was first elected to the bench in 1977 without the support of Brooklyn’s political machine. He served honorable for 17 years before his retirement in 1994. In 2001, Judge Phillips, at age 77, announced he would challenge the incumbent Charles J. Hynes in the race for the District Attorney in Brooklyn.

Judge Phillips holdings included several apartment buildings and two movie theaters, both purchased in the 1980s. He named one, the Century-Regent, the Slave One Theater, “So that no one would ever forget our struggle.” He called the other the Black Lady Theatre. Both metaphors of his love for his mother, Icie.

Judge Phillips became more widely known, especially among the grassroots in the activities surrounding the Slave Theater. He had purchased the Theater because his film work had been rejected by the movie world. The Theater became a Center for community meetings, forums, lectures, information sharing and organizing.

Sadly, the last days of Judge Phillips were spent in physical and mental deteriation. He was afflicted with Alzheimer. Also, there was controversy regarding his wealth. There were accusations that unauthorized checks were written from his account. He is reported to have said while in the hospital, “I’ve got to get out of here. They are stealing my money.”

The wake was held at Woodard Funeral Home in Brooklyn. All levels of the community attended. All day long starting at 2pm, they filed past the open coffin to see the Kung-Fu Judge. There were few people at the funeral on 2/26/08 held at the Church of the Open Door in Brooklyn. Family members occupied the first pew. Community activist and clergy and friends were scattered across the sanctuary. Everybody spoke highly of the Judge’s kindness, toughness, and afrocentrism and community concern.

I confess that I had confused Judge Phillips with our first attorney in 1960, Mr. Phillip Roach. But the things I said thinking I was speaking about Mr. Roach are equally applicable to Judge Phillips. What will become of Judge Phillips’ body we know, what will become of his wealth is uncertain. What will become of his spirit? Faith declares his spirit will return to the creator.

Going from funeral to funeral and remembering so many whose shadows crossed my path when they sojourned on this side of history; there came to my mind the words that I quoted before by Lord Byron, “What are the worst of woes that wait on age? What stamp the wrinkle deeper on the brow? To view each loved one blotted from life’s page, and be alone on earth, as I am now.”
I would make a slight modification on the reference to loved ones and insert acquaintances or contemporaries. And so it would read, “To view each acquaintance or contemporary blotted from life’s page…”

Surely, we who are among the aged or aging – maybe not so much for the young – have a feeling of melancholy with the passing of anything we have been around or have known for many years. Even inanimate things, such as old houses, shoes, clothes, trinkets, family heirlooms, neighborhoods, and living things in inanimate apparel, i.e. Old books and movies and art and music, etc. how much, much more living members of the human family, especially those who were near and dear to us, do we feel a sadness with their passing.

Upcoming Events

Attend the Timbuktu Learning Center’s weekly Thursday Night Community Forums. All Forums are held at the House of the Lord Church from 7pm to 9pm.

Join Operation Life Line if you need assistance or know someone who needs assistance with their mortgages as it relates to foreclosures, predatory lending and/or sub prime lending.

Attend NRLAA’s monthly forum Focus on Africa the 2nd Saturday from 2pm to 4pm.

Organizing Meetings regarding Darfur every Thursday - 12noon @ the House of the Lord Church
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