The collective soul of Ferguson, St. Louis, and those visiting from London, England, all simultaneously released a mighty praise in their spirit.
On a balmy April Monday night, in the middle of St. Louis, at the only Historically Black College and University in the Gateway City, something wonderful happened.
Billed as a free concert to bring peace to the Ferguson and surrounding parishes, this event quickly became a worship service after the atmosphere was set by the four previous acts, including one from Ferguson, MO.
The auditorium erupted in thunderous praise, jumps from seats, hands in the air, shouts of “hallelujah” where just three days prior, an installation service had taken place with visiting dignitaries from other universities, faculty and staff were in their regalia. Those very same seats were filled to capacity, even the balcony was filled, with people from the metropolitan area who needed something bigger than a DOJ report, they needed a praise.
When the curtain was closed on the last opening act and the mistress of ceremony was sending out the crew with boxes and boxes of John P Kee CDs, the excitement in the air was contagious, people could not stay in their seats.
It was more than anticipation for Pastor John P. Kee, it was something else, that something else was the deliverance the city was crying out for, the thing that needed to happen.
Pastor Kee, of course, met and exceeded every expectation with his anointed voice and the background singers who knew how to sing in the African American protestant traditions, of all denominations He sang old familiars, his “grandmother” songs and kept promising the “young folk” in the balcony that he hadn’t forgot them.
He came differently. He rode a bus with a busted knee, camouflaged behind his draped keyboard and podium, he came as a Pastor who happened to sing. He came to bring something special. He vowed nothing could have kept him away from Ferguson!
The songs were more than songs, people were dancing for their freedom, freedom from the daily reports of yet another black man in chains or morgue, from the daily injustices of being black and poor and black and just black in a Midwest city, they danced in their seats, some took to the aisles, others ran, the Spirit would not let them be still.
John P. Kee came with more. He left it all on that stage and still came with more. In the middle of praise, he would call over one of the singers, point to someone in the audience, and she would run out, touch that person, slipping something in their hands.
No one really knew what was happening until that gift was just what that person needed, he was so seamless and conspicuous about what he was doing. The audience had already had some members receive some free CDs, part of the warm up activities for the concert that started at 7pm. Pastor Kee came on a little after 8pm. The crowd was in eager anticipation.
By the time the evening came to what some thought was an end, Pastor Kee, one who does not take a salary from his North Carolina church, had given out what is in this writer’s estimate, over $2000 in cash, had handed out over 1400 CDs of John P. Kee and New Life, Life and Favor. He told his record company that he was giving them away, a conservative estimate is valued at over $14,000 on a conservative side. Kee delivered, sang to exhaustion, and ministered “new life” to the packed crowd.
He had a shepherd’s heart and had opened the stage for some young singers, calling them by section, when he called for ten and twenty ran up, his gracious nature let them on. He created on the spot John P. Kee/Harris-Stowe State University Gospel Choir in that instant. While he had his singers work with their section on the upcoming one or two songs, he ministered to the people.
Kee shared that the night before he was in concert in North Carolina and that they drove through the night He commended the university for the warm reception, noted that he had permission from the President to release the spirit in that place where the unexpected is expected. He presented the President of Harris Stowe State University with a framed Partaker’s Award from him, accepted in his absence by the Provost, and when the Award was given the audience erupted in thunderous praise.
The night seemed to be just what the beleaguered community of Ferguson and St. Louisians needed to not only recognize their trauma, grief, and hurt over the injustice in their community, but to also recognize that this thing went way back.
Kee, a southern African American gospel singer and pastor, understood that oppression and tapped right into what was needed.
It was Kee’s vocation as an inner city pastor that brought him to Missouri.
He called on one of his contacts at “3 o’clock in the morning” (Tracy Smith) and told her he needed to come to the Ferguson area. His contact made it happen. Kee, without naming names, made brief mention of his rules for the concert and that some well-known gospel artists would not come. Kee would not allow any of the artists to sell their CDs.
He came of his own accord, paid his musicians and singers, and insisted on the night being a night of giving and peace!
Kee brought his full band, his son Zacardi Cortez and 6 background singers, as well as floral gifts for some of the organizers, recognition and gifts to the university, the audience, and even had an old-fashioned giving session for the sound man who drove all night to be there. Kee stated, although he had been paid in full his sacrifice was worthy of an additional blessing. People poured out of their seats to be a blessing to someone else.
By the time the hour reached well past 11, Kee was still ministering and the audience was still packed, still soaking it in, from the young children he called on stage to dance to the elder bishop he recognized as being out of his sick bed. Kee came to bring something.
He didn’t allow cameras nor any type of media coverage, he didn’t come for that. There was only one student journalist there and even he turned his camera off and agreed to interview Kee after the service. It became church in there.
The night was so spirit-filled that he ended his concert by calling all the local pastors on the stage, about thirty made their way down the aisles and stood behind him, Kee continuing to play on his keyboard, his helpers, some were family, His sons Tredell and John P Kee III had already given out boxes and boxes of new CDs, the energy in the room palatable, people out of their seats, and then he did something else.
He began to minister to the deep place, the hurting place of the community He pastored and made an altar call. They came, more and more and more came from the seats, from the balcony, from the standing room only, they came. After Kee ministered the love of Christ, he then handed the mic to one of the pastors, a local bishop who had been active in the Ferguson community, opening his church up for meetings, and asked him to pray. Bishop prayed for the people, and understanding the hour, was able to hit the need without keeping the now congregation in the building well past the hour.
John P. Kee came to Ferguson, St Louis to do something that hadn’t been done, to minister to the community, to bring healing for souls that had been hurting for years. He brought tangible gifts and while that was exciting, he brought so much more. Even the people who he had “just paid their water bill,” came running to the front to return a portion of it. That being more blessed to give than receive was in full demonstration.
As the pastors and congregants were leaving the stage, he told us to go and tell the story. Tell everyone you know of the great fellowship that had just taken place.
Souls released at Harris-Stowe State University. Tonight, the church was outside the four walls, just where it needed to be. Something changed tonight and as he paid homage to the late Walter Hawkins by singing this signature anthem, “What Is This?”
He ended his concert with hope as he ministered his signature hit, Life And Favor. Hundreds began to unite as if the entire congregation harmoniously became one voice.
It all happened on a balmy Monday night in April, at a little college campus, a black college in the middle of a city wrestling with its racial divide, a little something special took place at Harris-Stowe State University. Now run and go tell that.