Faith, humility and dedication

The Rev. James Ray views himself as just another man. To others he's much more

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - The Rev. James Ray, founder of True Love Baptist Church, was 6 years old when he first sat at the back of a city bus on his way to school.

The year was 1948 - when blacks were forced to sit in the back throughout much of the South.

He was in his hometown of Little Harlem, N.C., an only child raised by his grandmother in a place where dirt roads paved a path for killings and beatings, Ray says.

Racism, he said matter-of-factly, was the way of life in this neighborhood, which he describes as rough and predominantly poor.

The 64-year-old remembers water fountains for the "colored people" and recalls paying 9 cents to see a movie from the balcony seats because blacks were not allowed below.

"If you were never raised in the South, never called 'nigger' or a dirty name like that, you don't have the same hurt I have, you don't know how that hurts, you really haven't experienced that," he says.

For a while, his eyes, burning with a childhood of negative reminiscences, seem to wander as he steps back into this memory. Until, that is, the topic of the church he founded almost 13 years ago and its programs - such as the lunch program to feed neighborhood children - surfaces.
"We don't think about, or don't want to think about, the hunger and poverty in our community," he says. "For some of these kids, this is all they have to eat all day and it's something they really need. It touched my heart to see kids around here are hungry and it's something we don't think about. This helps to fill the void."

And Ray, whether he admits it or not, helps to fill the void in many souls.

True love

The tall dark man stands with his back to a choir of white-dressed women, preaching the word of God with a voice that rises from the pit of his soul. His arms reach intensely for the heavens, as if waiting for a ray of light to embrace him.

Somewhere in the well-attended service a woman shouts "Amen!" and another, "Can I get a witness?"

They are inside the white building known as True Love Baptist Church on Pennsylvania Avenue, filled with cushioned pews, carpeted floors and vibrant vocals from the choir that percolates with the more than 100 people in attendance.

"It's such a blessing to know God loves us! He loves us so much that He overlooks our faults!" Ray shouts, mesmerized by his own words.

"And it's my job is to spread the word of God! Praise God!"

But Ray has gone a step further, according to community members.

"He's really living the ministry of helping the community," said Monique Sims, public health nutritionist with Solano County. "Churches don't often do that much but his church is open to the public. He does so much to improve health and he helps to solve problems that are present in the African American community."

The church opened its present location's double doors in 1998. Prior to that, True Love rented space at the Masonic Lodge on Travis Boulevard. Since then, the church, with a congregation of 600 members, has created a cluster of programs to help the needy in the area, including an after-school and lunch program, prison fellowship ministries, a juvenile hall program and the Angel Tree project for young children whose parent is in prison.

"These programs that he instituted are not just for church members but for the community, all up and down Pennsylvania Avenue," said Jesse Branch, a deacon at True Love. "The church has never turned someone away."

According to Sims, Ray is an advocate for minorities in the community. The Reverend, who is also a physician's assistant, recently held a bone marrow drive to increase donor matches for blacks and implemented a yearly function to improve cardiovascular health in the black population.

To improve literacy in minorities, he created a weekly tutoring program at the church and supports black infant health through breastfeeding advocacy.

Ask Ray of the programs he helped to implement and he just smiles humbly.

"I'm just an average man. I'm not doing anything that a human being shouldn't do to help his fellow man," he said. "I don't see myself as special. What is done is God's will to do so."


"If the truth were told, it is an unfortunate thing that Black History Month has to be held. But I do feel it's necessary," said Ray, a recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Living a Dream award from Solano Community College.

Ray, who served one year in Vietnam and 27 years in the United States Air Force, is a survivor of the civil rights movement.

He admits to admiring and respecting Martin Luther King Jr., but says he is not from the school of non-violence.

"I was more from the approach of Malcolm X, not the Black Panthers, and I didn't hate white people growing up in the South. But I was not about to let people, black or white, pour ketchup on me," he said.

Today, Ray feels it's time to recognize blacks, who have invested their time in the country as much as any other group.

"We are part of the melting pot we call America, we are part of the American Dream. Our blood has been shed on the battlefield . . . and our brothers' and sisters' blood is still being shed on the battlefield," he said. "We've done great things and continue to do great things and we have great people. I have great faith in our young people and I have hope for tomorrow. And I know tomorrow is a great thing.

"When you read older history books, the contributions of the African-Americans have been excluded and until that's completely done away with and recognized, we need a month like this."

A blessed person

It is his experiences that thrust Ray forward.

He calmly recalls the days when people called him "no good," "a bastard born out of wedlock" and other names he refuses to repeat. This, he says, is what made him strong.

"The Lord blessed me to use that as negative reinforcements," he said. "The more they told me I wasn't going to make it, the more I was determined."

He was a scholar in school, was student president in his junior and senior year and graduated from the University of Nebraska School of Medicine, as a physician's assistant.

Ray entered the military as a private in 1961 and retired as a captain 27 years and 16 days later, he says with a smile.

His future now holds retirement, as he announced during last Sunday's service, in about a year, leaving many people speechless. Well, that's if it's God's will for him to retire.

"If I don't feel released by the Holy Spirit to retire, I won't," he says. "The ultimate decision is up to the Lord."