The Rev. Roland Gordon, creator of the ‘Great Cloud of Witnesses’ at Ingleside Presbyterian Church, is also honored for establishing a community center for youth and a food bank
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Roland Gordon, whose length of service as the pastor of Ingleside Presbyterian Church in San Francisco is exceeded only by the care and inspiration he has provided to the youth of the neighborhood in which the church does ministry, is one of five recipients of Jefferson Awards from the organization Multiplying Good, which seeks to cultivate greatness through service to others. Last month, Gordon accepted the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefitting Local Communities.
Watch the awards ceremony, held Oct. 4 at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York City, by going here. Gordon, who began the Black history “Great Cloud of Witnesses” mural display in the gymnasium at Ingleside Presbyterian Church more than four decades ago, is introduced at the 1 hour, 20-minute mark.
“Congratulations, ‘Rev. G,’” as Gordon is affectionately known, the Presbytery of San Francisco said in announcing Gordon’s award in its newsletter. “We’re so proud of you and the way you uplift our youth while praising God and following Jesus.”
The presbytery announcement praised Gordon’s efforts creating the Black history collage, the largest of its kind in the nation, saying it was created “to serve as a reminder to young African American children of the achievements of African Americans and that they too can achieve greatness through education and dedication.” In 2016, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, following the recommendation of San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission, approved the Great Cloud of Witnesses with a landmark designation.
“Looking for a way to inspire the community’s youth,” the commission’s report states, “Reverend Gordon pasted one image of his hero, Muhammad Ali, to the wall of the gymnasium in 1980. Over the past 35 years, his artwork has grown to cover the entire gymnasium, multiple rooms, stairways, hallways, and all three levels of the church. The collage‐mural consists of newspaper and magazine clippings, posters, framed prints, painted murals, and other objects that depict prominent African Americans throughout history. What began as Reverend Gordon’s simple mission to provide images of role models to the community’s youth has resulted in an awe‐inspiring Folk Artist Environment that greatly contributes to the body of American and African American Folk Art and serves as an extraordinary, unparalleled visual documentation of national and San‐Francisco‐specific African American history.”
Gordon was also recognized by Multiplying Good for establishing the Ingleside Community Center, also located at the church, which serves students grades K-8 living in the Ingleside community with its after-school tutoring, technology training, athletics and summer programs. The community center also offers a food bank program as well as technology classes for adults.
Each day, Gordon noted while accepting the award, neighborhood children come to the Ingleside Community Center “to do research on the people pictured [in the Great Cloud of Witnesses] and discover that anything is possible. If you can think it, you can do it.”
“I’ve devoted my life to young folks,” Gordon said. Basketball was “my sport” growing up, and so he was glad to see when he first arrived at the church in 1978 — while still a student at San Francisco Theological Seminary — that the Ingleside complex included a gymnasium.
“We didn’t have a 3-point line then,” he said with a laugh, “but that’s where I fired from — way, way out.”
“Our young African American boys in the neighborhood were killing each other, and still are,” Gordon said. “We’ve got a serious problem in this city and actually all across the nation. … They need support. They need love. They need encouragement. I am an instrument of peace,” he said, launching into a prayer he’s had printed on cards for distribution. The prayer is based on one first offered by the saint for whom San Francisco is named, Francis of Assisi: “Where there is hatred, I shall promote love. Where there’s injury, pardon. Where there’s doubt, faith. Where there’s despair, hope. Where there’s darkness, light. Where there’s sadness, joy,” Gordon said, extending his arms wide. “I shall not seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that I receive. It is in pardoning that I am pardoned.”
“I tell parents that the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night, your assignment to help your child truly grow up with the right mentality is having them say those words,” Gordon said to applause from the audience.
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