I am Baltimore. I am Lexington Market. I am late night walks around Harbor East. I am summer swims at Patterson Park. I am egg custard snowballs. My story is uniquely “Baltimore” like crab cakes and club music. This city is my home and ground zero for the fruition of every dream that God has ever placed on my heart — a family, a ministry and a church.
Much like Baltimore, I have seen good and bad days, highs and lows, wins and losses. But I have never run from a challenge or cowered in the face of obstacles. I am strong and proud and resilient because that’s what my city raised me to be.
At 29 years old, I was audacious enough to start a bible study in home with 43 individuals who believed in me and believed that I could offer a fresh and innovative approach to the teachings of the Gospel. That 43 grew to 100, then to 450, then to 1,500 and, eventually, in the year 2000, we established Empowerment Temple. Eighteen years later, over 10,000 Christ-seekers call Empowerment Temple home.
I take incredible pride in what GOD has allowed us to grow. Empowerment Temple is not only one of the largest congregations in the city, we are the most active social justice congregation in Baltimore and have raised and distributed over $10 million in charitable donations to many worthy causes. In one day alone in 2010, we raised $50,000 to support victims of the earthquake in Haiti. And earlier this year, we assembled 30,000 meals for those affected by hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Florida and the Carolinas.
My greatest point of pride is the contribution that Empowerment Temple has made toward educating the young people of our city. As a young man who was kicked out of my high school and had to earn my GED in order to matriculate to Morehouse College and Duke University, I know all too well the value of a quality education and how easily one can get off track without structure, guidance and support. The Empowerment Academy, which we started in 2003, is a school dedicated to building character while meeting the academic and cultural needs for students of the 21st century. Much like Empowerment Temple, it was born as a labor of love and is rooted in the belief that we needed an innovative approach to reach and stretch individuals to their fullest potential. It has been an incredible blessing to watch the school develop students, parents and educators who make the challenge of academic success and good citizenry equally important. It is my belief that we are nurturing and developing future doctors, lawyers, scientists, educators and community leaders at Empowerment Academy, and that is a legacy that I will always cherish.
We also have provided support for hundreds of our members who attend various colleges and universities throughout this nation. Whether it is providing tuition, buying books or purchasing reliable transportation for students, we take seriously our commitment to create and expand opportunities for those who seek to reach higher, accomplish more and do better for themselves, their families and their communities. Inherent in our outreach is the belief that “to whom much is given , much is required” and I have always sought to ensure that Empowerment Temple is a people-focused ministry, reaching back and lifting up those who need help along their journeys.
I am honored to say that Empowerment Temple has answered every call that I put forth to serve those in need. We are a remarkable church, full of love, hope and a giving spirit that knows no limit. None of what we have accomplished would be possible without the committed staff, members and volunteers. I get plenty of credit and attention, but this has been a collective effort. I have been successful only because of the church I have been blessed to shepherd and the mighty God we serve.
I owe so much to my church, my family and to my city. I started out as a young man full of vigor, enthusiasm and new ideas but at times lacking the requisite wisdom and discipline to honor the awesome responsibility needed to maximize my call as pastor and a leader. But when I fell, you didn’t abandon me. Instead you loved me, forgave me and allowed God to lift me from humiliation and depression to higher platforms where I could proclaim His goodness and His amazing grace.
Perhaps my story could’ve happened anywhere, but I’m so grateful that this chapter of my life was authored in Baltimore. There is no place like Charm City, and it will always be my home, even as I head in to my next chapter as senior pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta.
My depth of my gratitude knows no bounds, and I will always hold dear the many memories we have created together. I am excited for what lies ahead for Empowerment Temple and for Baltimore. My prayer is that God will forever bless those who call this special place home and we will continue to rise, prosper and move forward in unity, love and respect.
My heart is forever Baltimore!
Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant’s last day as pastor of Baltimore’s Empowerment Temple was Sunday; he now joins the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta as its senior pastor. He can be reached at email@example.com.