Early one Sunday morning while on his drive to church at the iconic The House of The Lord on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, the degradation that existed at the corner of Cumberland Street spoke to the spirit of Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry, familiarly known as “The People’s Pastor.”
On one side were a liquor store and a bar lined on both ends by drunk and high street dwellers. On the opposite side, a dilapidated, abandoned railroad track attracted rodents, especially that particular fatted species known to New Yorkers as “subway rats.” Acting on inspiration, Rev. Daughtry
got out of his vehicle and began preaching. That spontaneous act morphed into a tradition he held for several years—preaching, teaching, and mingling with the people at that corner while on his way to church. “I would pray to God with all my heart that he will help change the area,” Rev. Daughtry told The Positive Community. Little did he know, not only were those prayers being heard, but there would come a time when he would play a pivotal role in the revitalization of said corner and its surrounding area.
It began around 2004 when whispers grew into headline news about plans for a development that would infuse a $4.5 billion project known as Atlantic Yards into the revitalization of the downtown Brooklyn area. The plan, envisioned by Forest City Ratner Companies, headed by Bruce Ratner called for a state-of-the-art arena, 16 high rises, and several commercial and residential spaces.
Former executive vice president of the Operation Breadbasket New York chapter, and no stranger to community organizing, Daughtry called a few of his ministerial colleagues together aiming to devise a strategic approach to ensure the Black community had a stake in the development. “But the preachers were too slow and suspicious to work together and come up with a plan,” he said. “Even though I insisted that we had to move with urgency because other people would get in on the ground floor and grab the choice opportunities in business and employment.”
Seeing the pie dwindling to a crust, Rev. Daughtry made an about face, severed ties with the preachers’ group, and instead organized the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance with his daughter, Sharon, as executive director. The group put a well-thought-out package together and approached Ratner on behalf of the community.
Among the items stipulated in Daughtry’s plan—a luxury suite in what would become the world-famous Barclays Center Arena; a total of eight choice seats to most events; the establishment of a community foundation to help with annual funding for local groups; and a meditation room, which once established, became the only one of its kind in any arena in the nation. Also included was a state-ofthe art health facility for which New York Presbyterian Hospital was selected to manage, and development of the community parks in the area. In addition, it ensured housing opportunities for low- and middle-income New Yorkers, construction jobs for minorities and women, and thousands of other employment opportunities. After years of political wrangling and community resistance, by September of 2012 when the Barclays Center finally opened with sold-out shows by mega rapper Jay-Z, the community had a stake thanks to the efforts of Rev. Daughtry and the landmark Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement.
Rev. Daughtry, now presiding minister emeritus of The
House of the Lord Church and well-acquainted with the fight for the advancement of people of African descent, continues the mission he has worked on the better part of his life. It started in August of 1957 while as a 22-year-old he heard the voice of God speaking to him from his prison cell in a federal penitentiary. “It was just before my release date,” he said. “and God said to me ‘Write the vision.’ I ended up writing an 11-page document of what I heard he wanted me to do, which was to impact the world for Jesus Christ and concentrate on people of African ancestry before all others.”
To date, Rev. Daughtry is still living toward completing all that he detailed in his prison manifesto. And so, even at the age of 92, he is not done. “Retirement” is like a bad word in his lexicon. “I ain’t ever going to retire,” he said boldly. “I refuse to die in shallow waters; when I go out, it’s going to be on the battlefield.”
Despite his resistance to retirement, legacy is something this activist minister thinks of often. He firmly believes that greatest among his list of life’s accomplishments keeps his family together along with his wife Karen. “We passed on a btradition to our children written in five lines,” he said.
- Love God; put God first in everything
- Love the family; all for one and one for all
- Love the people; work with and for the people to
achieve their highest good
- Save the planet
- Save the people
“I believe our family has lived that and I’m proud of what we have accomplished together,” he said. “So, that is my greatest contribution and my legacy.” The Daughtrys are now in the fifth consecutive generation of ministers and daughter, Rev. Leah, the fourth in succession as the National Presiding Prelate of The House of the Lord Churches, also served as chief executive officer of the 2008 and 2016 Democratic National Conventions, the only person in Democratic Party history to hold the position twice.
A vegan since 1984, Rev. Daughtry considers himself “a student of my body” and describes his ministry as a synthesis of social justice/political/spiritual values. “It breaks my heart when I see people eating food that’s killing them without recognizing that they are dying with their diet,” he said.
In a twist of fate, a member of the Daughtry family now owns a house at the same Cumberland Street corner where he preached many years ago. Today, trees line the streets in the area known as Atlantic Commons, with a bird’s eye view of the world-famous Barclays Arena. “I go over to that corner bvery often—every time I come to Brooklyn,” he said. “I just stand there and reminisce about the greatness of God.” For worthy consideration: the possibility exists that, at those times, Rev. Daughtry also hears the words of the Negro National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing by the great James Weldon Johnson.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.