Community Voices

A mentor to many, he led historic Overtown church for nearly 30 years

Rev. Ralph McKinley Ross
Rev. Ralph McKinley Ross

Family, friends and former classmates from the old Dorsey High School in Liberty City, from Knoxville College in Tennessee, and from the Morehouse School of Religion at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, gathered on April 6 at the Historic Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Overtown to say farewell to the Rev. Dr. Ralph McKinley Ross, who served the church for nearly 30 years as its senior pastor.

The service was truly a celebration of the life of Ross, who died on March 27, and was one of the unsung heroes in the Miami Dade community.

“One of the greatest gifts in life is friendship… Ralph knew how to be a friend,” said the Rev. Dr. Albert Paul Brinson of Atlanta. “Ralph was trustworthy, honest and knew how to reach out to others.”

I first met Ross when I was in the sixth grade and one of his sisters Mercedes, was my classmate. Later, Mercedes would join her older brothers Roy and Ralph, at D. A. Dorsey High, while I rode public transportation from Liberty City to Overtown to attend Booker T. Washington Junior/Senior High School. Back then blacks, though scattered throughout Miami Dade, from Goulds to Ojus, were a tight-knit community.

Students from the four all-black high schools — Booker T. Washington, Dorsey, Carver and Mays — competed in everything from academics to music and sports to see who was the best. It was friendly competition and we all got to know each other. Some of us became friends for life.

In high school, Ross and his older brother, Roy, were two grades apart. But they were often mistaken for each other because they looked so much alike. Once Ralph shared a story with me of how Roy once got caught in a little scrap at school. When the dean asked his name, he said, “Ralph.” The dean didn’t know he was talking to Roy and later called Ralph to his office.

“I was so angry with him,” Ralph said at the time. “I had the hardest time convincing the dean that I was innocent. Roy just laughed it off,” he said, laughing at the memory.

Stories like that flooded my mind as I sat listening to the remarks from friends and church members, and tributes and music from his children and grandchildren, and later the eulogy from Brinson, his friend of more than 60 years.

Brinson brought back a ton of memories, too, when he said in his eulogy, “ … The black church is the key element in the success of blacks. Ralph grew up in a world where he couldn’t drink from the same water fountain or eat in a restaurant as whites. But we were pushed [to succeed] by our black Sunday school teachers and by our parents. I remember once when I was acting up at church, a Sunday school teacher told me, ‘Boy, you are going to be something if I have to beat it out you.’ Ralph took on the same responsibility to help make life better for others.”

Surely the church was a driving force in Ross’ life. He was the fifth of seven children born to the late Rev. Lee Roy and Effie Mae Ross, who believed in training up their children in the way of the Lord. That training is reflected in the lives of many of their offspring today, with brother Roy serving as an elder in the church; his youngest sister is Prophetess Flora Ross-Beason; one of his daughters is Evangelist Simona Ross; and a niece is Minister Sheryl Ross.

Ross’ parents moved to the Liberty Square Housing Project when he was 4. He attended Liberty City Elementary and Dorsey junior/senior high school before accepting an academic and athletic scholarship to Knoxville College (now university) in Tennessee, where he played football his freshman year, was co-captain his sophomore year and was named captain his junior and senior years.

It was at Knoxville where he met and married his college sweetheart, Gertrude Stephens, a beauty from Philadelphia. They were the parents of six children. His wife and two sons, Ralph Stephens and Ray Merrill, preceded him in death.

As a young husband and father, Ross received a full academic scholarship at Morehouse School of Religion’s Interdenominational Theological Center, where he studied theology. Later, he would serve as an intern at Burnt Hills United Methodist Church in upstate, New York. He was a recipient of a fellowship from the Rockefeller Theological Fellowship Fund, which enabled him to further his seminary education.

By the time Ross returned to ITC, he was the father of five. Even so, he was a diligent fighter for the civil rights of others. He served as the interim pastor at Beth Salem Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Georgia, before being called to Mount Zion Baptist Church as an associate pastor.

Ross served the church for a year and a half, later joining the Urban League of Greater Miami for seven months before he was hired by Knoxville college to be the Dean of Chapel, Dean of Students and Minister of the Campus Church.

Ross also served as an assistant professor in the religious studies department at the University of Tennessee. He later became an assistant professor of philosophy and religion, and assistant dean of student development at North Carolina A&T State University at Greensboro.

He also served as pastor of First United Baptist Church in High Point, North Carolina. While in High Point, he received his Dcotor of Ministry Degree from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

In 1990, he accepted the call to return to Mount Zion and home, where he became committed to the spiritual growth of the congregation and the Overtown community.

He didn’t only serve the church; he served his country as well, as a chaplain in the U. S. Navy Chaplain Corps, and later becoming the first African American to reach the rank of Captain (Colonel) in the U. S. Naval Reserve Chaplain Corps.

“Ralph came from a setting where we used to be concerned about each other,” Brinson said. He told the story of how his own father left the family when he was 8, and Martin Luther King Sr., the father of the late civil rights icon, took him in.

“... and I became one of them until this day,” he said. “We need to learn to love each other more. Ask yourself — ‘What would Jesus do?” — when faced with perplexing issues.

“Ralph was truly my brother; we were alike in so many ways,” said Brinson, a civil rights icon who walked beside the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in many demonstrations. “It is a blessing that we all lived in the season of Ralph. He wasn’t about himself; he was about us. He dealt with conflict, challenges and defeat.

“But he knew where to get the victory. If you have never felt the joy of the Lord, you must search for it. Ralph found the answer [in Jesus]...”

In addition to his brother Roy (Lillie), and sisters Mercedes (Harold)Travis and Flora, Ross is survived by daughters Sharlene, Lydia, Simona Petra; son Randall Messias (Barbara); sister Dorothy Ross-Smith; granddaughters Shauna, Imani, Nia, Zoe, Ariana, Sahara; grandsons Isaiah, Peter, Lucas (Shaina) and Nicholas, and Great-grandchildren Sophia and Noble.

Ukrainian Holy Week services

The Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, 39 NW Fifth Court, will celebrate Palm Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Sunday with the Hierarchical Divine LIturgy presided by Bishop Bohdan J. Danylo in English and Ukrainian, and the distribution of Pussy Willows and anointing.

For information about Holy Week services, call 786-592-1563.

Easter concert

The Miami Oratorio Society will present its annual Easter Concert at 5 p.m. Sunday, April 14, at Sierra Norwood Calvary Baptist Church, 495 NW 191st St.

The choir, directed by Andrew Anderson, will perform Theodore Dubois’ “Seven Last Words of Christ,” and selections from the Easter portion of Handel’s “Messiah.” Guest soloists are Joanne Martinez, soprano; Emilia Acon, mezzo-soprano; Lep Williams, tenor; and Daniel Snodgrass, baritone.

The Miami Oratorio Society is in its 45th year of performing major choral works by the masters. Its repertoire runs from Bach to Vivaldi, and from Negro Spirituals to gospel and contemporary composers. Its membership is comprised of singers from throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Tickets are $30 at the door for adults and $10 for children ages 10 -17.

Spanish Monastery concert

The board of directors of the Ancient Spanish Monastery Foundation will present Florida Memorial University Chamber Ensemble in concert at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 18, at the Monastery, 16711 W. Dixie Hwy. in North Miami Beach.

The concert, a fundraiser for the monastery, will feature classic Easter music. Reservations will include a reception with the choral Director Dr. Nelson Hall and the Chamber Ensemble following the concert.

Tickets are $35, general admission, or $60 per couple, and $25 for students. To RSVP for tickets, go to: events@spanishmonastery.com, or call Heidi Rosenthal at 954-270-8328. You may also call Janie Greenleaf at 305-610-3840 for additional information.

Passover seder

Ahavat Olam will host the 14th annual Passover Second Night Seder, which is open to the public, at 6:45 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at Roasters ‘N Toasters, 12729 S. Dixie Hwy. in Pinecrest

Rabbi Danny Marmorstein will lead the Sede, which will include a choice of chicken, brisket, or salmon; vegetables, wine and baked desserts. Vegetarian dinners will also be available. The cost is $50 per adult and $25 for children ages 10 and under.

Reservations will close on Tuesday. To make your reservation, send an email to: members@ahavatolam.org or call 305-412-4240 or 305-588-7662.

A talk about losing your mom

Michelle Meier, who wrote the book, “A Beautiful Death,” the story of losing her mom and how she broke through her darkest days to see the light, will speak and sign books at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at Curtiss Mansion, 500 Deer Run in Miami Springs.

Her topic will be “Moving Through Grief With Grace.” The event is free and no tickets are required. Call 305-869-5180 for information.

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Members of the Circle of Brotherhood participate in the 10th day of a hunger strike inside a makeshift tent adjacent to Liberty Square in Liberty City on Monday, March 18, 2019. A total of nine members are participating in the hunger strike campaign titled Operation Hunger Strike, which aims to end gun violence and bring increased awareness to the issue. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

New suits for hunger strikers

A warm Neighbors in Religion salute to the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce and Austin Burke Clothiers, who on April 4 presented each member of Hunger 9 with a new suit, shirt and tie.

The hunger strike, which began on March 9 and ended on March 30, was begun by nine men to make people understand the toll that gun violence is taking on the black community.

G. Eric Knowles, president of the chamber, said, “The sacrifice of the Hunger 9 is remarkable. Knowing that the men had lost weight and are in need of new clothes that fit is what prompted me to approach Kenny Sager of Austin Burke about the idea. He loved it and agreed to provide a suit to each member of the Hunger 9.”

Good work from Mormon teens

Many thanks to the more than 50 teenagers who spent their Spring Break doing good work around Miami-Dade.

The teens, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, came from Cuba, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico, and worked at an autism center — Angels Reach Academy at 12051 W. Okeechobee Rd. in Hialeah Gardens.

The teens cleaned and cleared the grounds, painted colorful tires as planters, and added flowers to bring a sparkle of color to the yard. The teens arranged 48 boxes with supplies they collected and donated for the children at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.

The teens also collected and donated 250 boxes of Band-Aids to the hospital.

Youth President Roger Ortiz and Women President Kristi Ortiz coordinated the effort. Jim Robinson is president of the Miami Lakes Stake of the church.

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