Sunday, March 27, 2011

First Poet's Church Visits Center of Hope Church

Bishop Ernestine Reems,

Founder, Center of Hope Church

Oakland CA

Marvin X,

Prime Minister of Poetry,

First Poet's Church of the Latter Day Egyptian Revisionists

Ptah Mitchell, Minister of Poetry and Education, First Poet's Church

Aries Jordan, Minister of Poetry and Intergenerational Affairs

First Poet's Church Visits

East Oakland's Center of Hope

On Sunday, the First Poet's Church ministers of poetry, Aries Jordan, Ptah Mitchell, and prime minister Marvin X, visited East Oakland's legenary Center of Hope, founded by Bishop Ernestine Reems. Rev. Brandon Reems is acting pastor. But have no illusion that the 82-year old Bishop Reems has lost her Holy Ghost spirit. At one point this International Day, with the congregation dressed in African attire and a Japanese choir in the house, Bishop Reems told her congregation they were Isrealites and needed to be killed for their iniquities. She told them, "Don't be looking at me crosseyed. Sometimes I want to kill you!"

The Queen Mother slipped off her shoes at one point in her sermon, then continued, "You got to see yourself as a winner. Think as a winner, knowing you are annoited to win." The Church choir gave an up tempo version of We Shall Overcome that fit in with the rapidly moving events around the world. It was the most powerful version of the Civil Rights classic Marvin X had ever heard. When her son, Bradon, took over the pulpit, he read from Second Chronicles, wherein we are told to be still and let the Lord fight our battles. Just be still. If you move you just mess things up when God is got the entire situation under control. Get out the way and let God fight this battle. You've done all you can do. This is why you are so frustrated and depressed, because you are fighting when you simply need to be still. Marvin X thought about the words of his mentor, now ancestor, John Douimbia, "Marvin you fought battles you didn't even need to fight."

Bishop Reems had made a similar point in her sermon. "You women worried about a no good man, just let God handle him. You just pray and see if God don't bring that no good man home and he won't even know why he's home. Yes, let the Holy Spirit bring him home. Just be still and prayerful."

Look at the motion in the ocean, in the mountains and hills, rivers and streams. Look at the motion in the people around the world standing up for righteousness. We see some of them simply stand still and refuse to move, and yet this is enough to make tyrants leave town.

When the First Poet's Church ministers were called, only Marvin X was supposed to read a poem, but he said a few opening remarks on the recent visit to juvenile hall, arranged by Rev. Brandon, and how he was overwhelmed with emotion seeing the babies locked up for serious crimes. Rev. Brandon told him later that the visit by the poets to juvenile hall is the talk of the town, that he hated to admit the youth said they wanted to hear from the poets rather than the Rev. Marvin X's classic Fable of the Black Bird has shaken the incarcerated youth.

Rather than read himself, Marvin X deferred to his associate ministers, Ptah and Aries Jordan. Ptah read a spiritual poem on having God inside yourself, rather than tripping on the outside, homicide, suicide, eastside, westside, northside, southside. When Aries discovered she had left her book of poems on the pew, she decided to sing a song from her church days. The two junior ministers of poetry rocked the church in the heart of East Oakland, next door to the infamous Castlemont High School. In her sermon, Bishop Reems had questioned why do we pay taxes but don't have the same quality schools as white areas of the Bay? Castlemont is one of the poorest schools in Oakland.

Bishop Reems was so estatic with the poets she invited us to return for a program featuring our group of poet/authors that will address youth issues. Before Marvin X stepped down with his ministers of poetry, he reminded Bishop Reems she had contacted him many years ago, 1977, when he worked with then Born Again Christian Eldridge Cleaver. At her request, Marvin encouraged Eldridge to make his first appearance at a black church, Center of Hope. Bishop Reems said she would be honored to help Marvin establish the First Poet's Church of the Latter Day Egyptian Revisionists.

--Marvin X, Prime Minister of Poetry, First Poet's Church


Biography of Bishop Ernestine Reems Gale Contemporary Black Biography:

Ernestine Cleveland Reems minister (clergy); founder; writer Personal Information Born Ernestine Cleveland, in 1932, in Oklamugee, OK; daughter of Bishop Elmer Elijah (E.E.) Cleveland and Matilda Cleveland; married Paul Reems (died 2000); children: Brondon and Brian.Education: Patton Bible College, Oakland, CA.Memberships: (Selected) Board of Directors, Monument International Church Assemblies, 2000; trustee, International Charismatic Bible Ministries; Board of Regents, Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, OK; Chairman of the Board, Hope Housing Corporation; Chairman of the Board, Hope Development Corporation. Career Center of Hope Community Church, Oakland, CA, founder, pastor, 1968-; E.C. Reems Women's International Ministries, Oakland, CA, founder, 1988-.

Life's Work

Pastor Ernestine Cleveland Reems has experienced pain, suffering, and hurt. She understands firsthand the troubles of poverty and rejection. And yet she is quick to admit that her life has indeed been, as she told Contemporary Black Biography, "beautiful." Brimming with positive energy, Reems has dedicated her life to serving Jesus Christ and, through His Word, has brought hope and promise into the lives of others. Ernestine Cleveland Reems was born in 1932, in Oklamugee, OK, a small town outside of Tulsa, the third of nine children born to Elmer Elijah (E.E.) and Matilda Cleveland. Shortly after her birth, the family moved to Parker City, OK and then to Brooksville, OK, as E.E. Cleveland established himself as a traveling preacher. Reems remembers growing up in a loving household, even though her father was often preaching out of state for extended periods of time while her mother supported her father and tended to the family garden. The family lived in a one-room shack, and Reems still recalls the pot-bellied stove which graced it. In 1939, Pastor Cleveland's travels took him to California. Upon arrival, he vowed to bring his family to join him, for he believed that California held the promise of an improved quality of life. When Reems was just nine years old she moved with her family to Richmond, CA.

Her father could not afford train tickets for the entire family, so he found a ride for the already-engaging and outgoing Reems with a local principal and his wife. When Reems arrived in Los Angeles, CA, she initially lived with an acquaintance of her father's, Mrs. McKinney, whose family cared for Reems until she reunited with her family. Reems quickly witnessed how well her father had been received in California, for the deacons of the church where he preached built the Cleveland family a three-room home. Ambitious and creative, Matilda Cleveland then expanded upon the initial structure and converted the space into an eight-room house, adding bedrooms and a sun porch.

In Reems' mind, her family possessed one of the nicest African American houses in Richmond. The Clevelands not only instilled in their children the importance of hard work, but they also impressed upon them the value of resourcefulness. Reborn in Christ Reems's life took a dramatic turn when, at age 13, she was stricken with tuberculosis. Because the disease was highly contagious, she was forced to move to Wiemar, CA, where she spent a year, and returned home only to suffer a relapse. Once again found herself in Wiemar. After struggling for several years with no cure and no hope, Reems had a realization--it was not for her own purposes that she was created, but for God's. After she decided to devote her life to God, Reems recovered from her illness. That Reems should turn to her faith is not surprising. She was raised by parents who were intensely committed Christians and who, Reems told CBB, "loved, loved, loved God." Initially she did not consider herself a believer and instead, as Reems told CBB, wanted "to do it [her] way."

And yet, as she struggled to survive her bout with tuberculosis, she came to know God for herself. Reems felt that God allowed her to experience hardship so that her relationship with Him would grow and so that she would be prepared for her ultimate calling. In 1951, Reems began to travel to every major city in the country with her brother, Reverend Elmer Cleveland, Jr., in order to preach the Gospel. During this time she met Paul Reems, and they were married in 1958. Working together and starting with nothing, Ernestine and Paul built their life on the pillars of "commitment, consistency, and consecration."

Although she was unable to preach in the church of her childhood--women were not accepted as preachers but only as missionaries and teachers--Reems never lost sight of her priorities, her focus, and her desire to minister from her own pulpit. In 1968 she purchased an old shoe store in Oakland, CA, in a drug-infested neighborhood where people were frequently killed on the next corner. She then traveled across the country to evangelize and raise money to open a church on the property. With the funds she collected, Reems built a platform, purchased an organ and a piano, and laid some carpeting. From its initial congregation of four, membership in the Center of Hope Church exceeded 1,500 congregants by 2000. Fiercely committed to spreading the Word of Christ, Reems preaches with the charisma of one who is baptized in fire. According to a biography produced by her ministry, Reems's messages are "painfully clear and rich with poetic commentary, startling insights, and contemporary applications of the Bible's timeless message.

They usually expose the frailties of the heart of man and their need of a Savior." In response to her powerful words, the audience is driven to passionate praise, worship, and spontaneous dancing. Reems told CBB that her father was her mentor and her hero. Her father simply loved people, and this trait, she told CBB, embodies her inheritance from him. The hallmark of her ministry, then, is her particular calling to people in need. Non-judgmental in approach, she actively seeks those whom society has cast aside and helps them to re-assimilate. By sharing her compassion and her passion with drug addicts, prostitutes, prisoners, and the homeless, she offers, according a biography produced by her ministry, "both the hope of the Gospel message and the practical demonstration of it." In 1973, she received national attention for her work when the United States Army requested that Pastor Reems minister to the soldiers stationed in West Germany and honored with the rank of Five-Star General.

Founded Women's Ministry

While Reems is quick to note that she is not racist, she believes that women of color deserve and need a special forum of their own. As she explained to CBB, "I think I can address being poor better than someone else, being oppressed better than someone else, experiencing racism every day of my life." Reems also said, "We [African American women] can do beautiful things in our community because we know our culture, our people." Towards this end, in 1988, Reems founded the E.C. Reems Women's International Ministries (ECRWIM), headquartered in Oakland, CA. The goal of this ministry is to motivate, instruct, and challenge women to reach their maximum potential in Christ so as to enable them to meet the demands of the 21st century. According to the ECRWIM-Queens's/NY Chapter web site, "Its members are dedicated to promoting unity among women, community service, leadership development, and career enhancement through a series of regional conferences, publications, and audio-visual aids."

Ultimately, according to the web site, the ministry envisions itself not only as a resource for information and education, but "as a conduit for the development of positive role models in the rebuilding of intra/interpersonal relationships." Acting, then, as an advocate, the organization energizes women to become active in their communities and local churches. While global in her commitment to preach the Word of Christ, Reems' primary commitments remain within her own community.

In 1990, for instance, she opened a 56-unit senior housing complex, the E.E. Cleveland Manor. She also purchased a 17-unit facility to operate a transitional housing program for homeless single women with children. As she told Hunger News & Hope, a prostitute had posted herself in front of Reems' church, waiting for a customer and Reems quickly informed her, "Honey, you can't do that here--this is a church." The woman replied that she was hungry and needed to buy food. Reems told Hunger News & Hope that she felt the event was a message from God: "Open a transitional home for women in crisis." Combining federal and city funds with private donations, Reems purchased and remodeled a dilapidated motel and, in 1992, opened the home, which also offers programs in such areas as job-training and child-care. In 1998, she established the E.C. Reems Gardens, a 150-unit affordable housing complex. All told, by 2000, Reems managed more than $18 million for various social programs and had wholly transformed the neighborhood near her church.

Started a Charter School

Reems's reach into her community does not stop with her housing projects. Rather, in September of 1999, she inaugurated the Ernestine C. Reems Academy of Technology and Art Charter School in Oakland. According to the Academy's web site, the school promotes "a child-centered, community-learning environment dedicated to developing academic excellence in core subjects, leadership, and technological skills." The Academy also promotes appreciation for the arts, as well as community service. In particular, the academy, according to its web site, focuses on "raising academic achievement of all students, developing business and community partnerships, increasing parent and community involvement in school activities...and providing opportunities for students to serve through community activities."

The population of both staff and students at the school is diverse, reflecting the diverse population of Oakland itself, and the student body already exceeds 350. As Reems postulated during her interview with CBB, "public schools will fade out during the 21st century and charter and private schools will rise to the fore unless public schools make drastic changes." By actively engaging parents in the education of their children, Reems believes that her school will be successful, so successful, in fact, that she is already searching for more space to build a high school. Ministered to Young Women While certainly fulfilled by preaching from the pulpit, Reems makes it abundantly clear that the joy of her life is in ministering to the youth, and particularly to young women.

Reems realizes that this population is afflicted with problems stemming from low self-esteem. The younger girls in particular, Reems told CBB, have such low self-esteem that they do not like themselves. They do not like he way they look or the mistakes that they have made in their lives. Reems understands that, as she said in her interview with CBB, "senior women" must reach out to the younger generations, "take off their facade, and be real with them," because they share the same experiences. Reems told CBB that, in October of 2000, she brought 21 young women ages 21-31 to her home for brunch. She sat on the floor with them, answered their questions about sex, parenting, abortion, spirituality, and finances, and prayed with them.

These women were all struggling with some of life's most difficult issues: children out of wedlock, abortion, boyfriends who used drugs or were imprisoned. Through prayer and inspiration, through the retelling of her own miseries and pain as well as her triumphs, Reems told CBB, "God used me to minister to them to help their self-esteem, self-awareness, spirituality, and how to be a mother to their children. You make mistakes in life but you have to understand who you are and pick yourself up." Reems's spirit is contagious, and she has devoted her life to blessing any who will listen to her message. "I don't need affirmative action," she told CBB. "I affirm myself everyday." It is this message--a message reminding her listeners of what they have and can accomplish, of what they have contributed--that continues to draw people to her.


Selected Awards: Outstanding Service in Religion Award, Alameda-Contra Costa Innovators, 1984; Top 100 Black Business and Professional Women in America, Dollar and Sense Magazine, 1985; Outstanding Community Service Award, Hayward South Alameda County NAACP, 1986; Woman of the Year Award, State of California Legislature, 1987; Conferred, Doctor of Divinity, 1988, Trinity Hall Seminary, Springfield, IL; Christian Image Lifetime Achievement Award, Los Angeles, CA, 1990; Humanitarian Award for Outstanding Leadership and Untiring Service to Mankind, 1990; Excellence in Urban Ministry, Allen Temple Baptist Church, Oakland, CA, 1993; Outstanding Community Service, City of Oakland, 1996; One of the Top Women Preachers in the United States, Ebony Magazine, 1997; Woman of the Year, Urban League, 2000; Rosa Parks Award, Outstanding Leadership and Service, Junior Flair Heritage Foundation, 2000; Conferred Bishop, Monument International Church Assemblies, 2000. Works Selected Writings Counting Everything as Joy! Through the Storm. Further Reading Periodicals Ebony, November 1997. Hunger News & Hope, spring 2000.Other Additional information was obtained from a personal interview with CBB, from the personal papers of Bishop Reems, and on-line at the Center of Hope Community Church web site,, the Ernestine C. Reems Academy of Technology and Arts web site,, and the E.C. Reems International Women's Ministries-Queen's/NY Chapter web site, — Lisa S. WeitzmanRead more:

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