His thunderous voice represented the needs of so many in the South Miami community. But on Wednesday morning, Pastor Rodney James said no more. His death came unexpectedly. James was 46, survived by a wife and three children.
The city’s police chaplain had an arsenal of gifts. He was pastor of the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church of South Miami and president of the city’s Concerned Clergy & Citizens Coalition.
He was elected to that seat in 2011, a week after moving from South Carolina.
“It was a wonderful friendship,” South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard said. “We aren’t done with him yet. He has more work here in South Miami. We are just feeling a real loss.”
James fought alongside South Miami officials for the construction of the Murray Park pool, after decades of waiting. He even traveled with the mayor and city manager to the county mayor’s office to request funding for the project.
James was a strong proponent for more jobs and affordable housing in the city. He had a relationship with the city’s police chief, Rene Landa, meeting with him regularly and sharing an open line of communication whenever tensions in the city sizzled.
“He came in and immediately got involved,” said Levy Kelly, a board member of South Miami’s Community Redevelopment Agency. “He was a real pillar in terms of trying to make things happen. It’s unfortunate that we only have a few people like him. To lose one like that will certainly leave a big void. The community is really saddened … by the fact that we lost him.”
James was a big reason why the city hired Landa in 2013 as its police chief.
“Pastor James went through all the candidates and their credentials and found out who everybody was,” Stoddard said. “He told the city manager that he was casting his vote for Landa. He felt Landa was the right person for the community. The manager was very impressed by that. The previous police chief had not been supportive of the community and vice versa. Landa, who had been appointed by the last police chief, had gained the community’s trust. That relationship has been very important.”
The bond is leading the city to its lowest crime rate since 1991.
“He was fruitful,” Stoddard said. “He was a very good friend. He and I hit it off. He was just genuine. He was warm. He was smart. He could read people really well, really fast. He was direct and gentle at the same time. He told them what he thought without being mean about it. Very quickly people recognized that a leader had come to town” in 2011.
His celestial singing and speaking voice built up intellectual sermons with emotion and tenacity. He used this gift to bring conflicting minds together for the purpose of bettering South Miami.
“He came in and wanted to have a meeting with the police constantly and also with concerned citizens,” Landa said. “So when something came up, something sour or wasn’t right that someone brought up in the community, before it boiled into something else, he would always call me to say ‘Hey can we meet with a couple of the people in the community, myself and you?’
“The main thing about him, he was the type of person who, when they talk, it kind of mandates that you listen.“
James McCants, the redevelopment agency’s community outreach coordinator, said the community is still numb from the sudden loss.
“My heart is filled with sorrow,” McCants said. “He filled a void that was needed as it relates to getting the pastors together on one accord. He was the president of the concerned clergy and citizens committee. He was a community spokesperson. He was a person of knowledge and had a way of articulating his statements in a way to be respected. Rev. James got along with everybody — commissioners, mayor, community, community leaders.
“We are just trying to stay strong and supportive of each other. We want to be there for the family. I know they are still grieving. We are grieving from his loss too.”
James could make a phone call and make things happen, McCants said.
“Pastor James represented peace, dignity and respect for the South Miami [redevelopment] area and South Miami’s city as a whole,” McCants said. “Whenever he spoke, people heard and people respected him for what he stood for.
“What we want to do is be there for his family and be there for his small children. We will honor him. What we want to do is be respectful of what the family wants to do first.”
A wake will be held Monday from 6 to 9 p.m. at Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, 6316 SW 59th Pl. in South Miami. A celebration of his life will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Peaceful Zion Missionary Baptist Church, 2400 NW 68th St. in Miami. Arrangements are by Wright & Young Funeral Home.