Remembering Rev. Calvin O. Butts of Abyssinian Baptist Church

Rev. Butts was a good friend, a powerful preacher, a leader devoted to positively uplifting the Black community

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When I was about seven years old, my family and I were visiting New York City and attending a large worship service at historic Abyssinian Baptist Church when I let go of my mother’s hand in the bustling crowd on the way to the balcony and suddenly became separated from her. I was overwhelmed with panic and fear. But friendly people summoned an usher who took me down to the pulpit, where the preacher embraced me and asked the congregation if anyone knew this child. My mother, who was frantically searching for me in the balcony, stood and said yes, and another usher quickly reunited us.

I can still remember how terrifying it felt to be lost. But I also remember how adults at Abyssinian Baptist Church immediately surrounded me with care and concern, reassured me they would take care of me, and did not let go until I was safe.

Adults at Abyssinian Baptist Church have been a haven of care and safety for children in their Harlem community for generations. They have done so under the leadership of giants like Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Rev. Samuel DeWitt Proctor, and, for the last 33 years, Rev. Calvin O. Butts III.

Rev. Butts was a good friend, a powerful preacher, a leader devoted to positively uplifting the Black community, and an effective voice for civil rights. When he passed away on October 28 we lost a champion for justice who had a transformative impact on his city and community.
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Marian Wright Edelman is Founder and President Emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

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