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Coalition recognizes those who gave back


As a girl growing up in Annapolis, Callie Marita Johnson-Matthews saw her father sitting up late at night working on sermons and comforting and advising neighbors who had come into trouble.

He was, she said, an old-time pastor; the community was his congregation. It was not the kind of work she saw for herself.

"Ministry is hard, and I never had a desire to be in ministry," she said. "But I believed I might have had a call in my teen years, but I just couldn't figure out what it was."

Several decades later, Johnson-Matthews answered that quiet call and in 2005 became the first woman to head Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Annapolis.

Tonight she will be one of seven county residents honored for their contributions by RESPECT, a coalition of African-American organizations.

The other honorees are:

Enrique Melendez , a school board member.

Reesa Motley, president of the Annapolis chapter of The Links.

William F. Chaney, amateur historian and fundraiser.

Joseph S. Johnson, chief of the Annapolis Police Department

Ronald D. Blackwell, the county's first black fire chief.

Wayne M. Taylor, Ward 4 alderman.

"Each of the recipients, notwithstanding their success, has continued to give back to the larger community," said Carl O. Snowden, a RESPECT board member and aide to County Executive Janet S. Owens. "I think they realize that no matter how successful they are as individuals, that success will never mean much unless the entire community benefits."

Johnson-Matthews, 60, said her ministerial and community work is its own reward.

"I never expected to be rewarded for anything I've done," she said. "I'm surprised and humbled just to be recognized."

Johnson-Matthews, who is married with five grown children and four grandchildren, began her road to the pulpit working with preschool-aged children at a Head Start program in 1963.

She worked as a teacher's aide during her summers as a student at Wiley H. Bates High School. She continued to work with children from there, heading youth activities with the Community Action Agency and the YWCA in the 1970s and 1980s.

"She knew how to bring the children out, and she would get down and play with them," said Yevola Peters, former director of the Community Action Agency. "She could also draw parents to her and change their attitudes about how they could relate to their kids."

Johnson-Matthews says that her work with children and parents was ministry; she just didn't call it that at the time.

"It was working with and caring for others," she said. "I have worked with the disadvantaged of our community all of my life."

While attending a church conference in 1990, a bishop asked anyone who was seeking ministry to come forth. Johnson-Matthews was sitting way up in the bleachers, she recalled, and got up and took the long walk to meet with the bishop.

In 1994, Johnson-Matthews received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Lincoln University. She graduated from Howard University School of Divinity in 2000 and was appointed pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Jessup.

Five years later, she preached her first sermon at Mount Zion before a congregation that included her second-grade teacher.

"Many of them see me as little Callie, and they knew me as a child," she said. "It takes a while for people to believe you're capable, but I love to preach, and the word of God is what opens people up."

And though she might not have seen it happening then, she has become like her father, an old-time pastor.

"I think she brings to the pulpit the life experiences of how you use your faith to really do the work," said Peters, who first heard Johnson-Matthews preach seven years ago. "She doesn't just talk the talk, she walks the walk."

In April, Johnson-Matthews started Let's Talk, a support group for women in the public housing communities.

"I call myself a change agent. I inspire change," she said. "I help people know that wherever they are, they can always move someplace else."

The keynote speaker will be Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals.

The awards dinner begins at 6 p.m. at La Fontaine Bleu in Glen Burnie. Tickets cost $40, and proceeds go to RESPECT. For information, call 410-349-1908.

A headline in Friday's Anne Arundel section misidentified the coalition of African-American organizations that honored seven county residents Friday. The group is called RESPECT.The Sun regrets the error.
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