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'T-Byrd' and The Word: It's been a big year for Dr. Terriel Byrd

July 27, 2007, Palm Beach Post, 'T-Byrd' and The Word: It's been a big year for Dr. Terriel Byrd, by Paul Lomartire.

It's Sunday, July 15, and "T-Byrd" flies to the First Baptist Church in Lake Worth — a place that's notably diverse, as churches go.

Most of the 300 or so in the pews are white. But about 40 are black. There's a guy with Rasta braids rocking to the hymns, and when the congregation sings, "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world," kids who are "red and yellow, black and white" come up to the altar for a special prayer. There are a few interracial couples, too.

photo by Bruce R. Bennett/Post

Dr. Terriel Byrd, a professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University and author of a book on racial segregation in worship, serves as guest preacher Sunday at First Baptist Church in Lake Worth.

T-Byrd — otherwise known as Dr. Terriel Byrd, associate professor of religion and director of Urban Ministries Studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach — knows how unusual this diversity is.

He just wrote a book about it — I Shall Not Be Moved: Racial Separation in Christian Worship — which is selling well and is a "best new hot release" on Amazon in Canada.

It's a look at why blacks and whites self-segregate when they worship, and it asks: Does this separation hinder the Christian teachings of inclusion and unity?

Dr. Byrd is at First Baptist to do a guest preaching gig while the church searches for a new minister.

He knows what white Christians expect from a visiting black preacher.

"They have an expectation that I will bring a certain type of enthusiasm to the moment," he says, politely.

Or, in other words, a jumpin', jivin', cartwheelin'-down-the-aisle, black preacher like in The Blues Brothers.

"Exactly," he says, laughing. "That's in my book."

Lifting the church 'above its' tunnel vision'

T-Byrd is not afraid to talk about race. And that's talking, not whining.

This is a nation, he says, "that's so deeply rooted in its racial segregation, it can't move beyond it."

He has just returned from Marion, Ala., near Selma, where he was guest preacher.

"It was surreal for me because the lines were so clear, the racial divide was so clear. There's the black world. There's the white world, and never shall the two intermingle."

Well, they do. Byrd himself grew up in an integrated world. But churches, for the most part, remain segregated.

This is unfortunate, Byrd says, because "it doesn't represent the true community of God."

As he writes in I Shall Not Be Moved: "If blacks and whites are comfortable enough at work together, sometimes side by side in swank offices and on factory floors, they shop side by side in grocery stores and at malls, they yell and scream at sports events and eat in the same restaurants, the church has to also lift itself above its tunnel vision and move forward."

Byrd's openness is one reason why he won the 2007 Charles and Hazel Corts Award for Outstanding Teacher at PBAU. He'll serve as PBAU's Grand Faculty Marshall for the next year.

On Tuesday, T-Byrd was in his office, thinking about his Sunday sermon.

"I will probably be talking about hope," he says. "The importance of having hope in despairing times. When it seems darkness is all around. When your back is against the wall."

That message, he says, is good for First Baptist of Lake Worth because they are looking for a new pastor, and a search for new leadership "can be very difficult."

Life experience

T-Byrd knows difficulty.

When he was 6, his father, Charles, was killed in a car wreck. That meant his mother, Geneva, had to raise five kids alone.

"All in diapers at the same time," says T-Byrd. "She had three sets of twins a year apart." (One child died.)

And young T-Byrd wasn't always the model son mom needed.

"I was pretty wild," he says of his teen years. "I converted (to Christianity) at 17, but I had to complete my high school at night school. I couldn't march with my twin brother at graduation."

He loved basketball, even with no future at barely 6 feet tall, and "I mostly chased girls" until he met wife, Toni, in high school and calmed down.

Thank God for his hometown of Oxford, Ohio. Its No. 1 attraction: Miami of Ohio University. That's where his dad was a maintenance man before he died. That's where Geneva worked in the cafeteria for 20 years to support her family. That's where T-Byrd got his bachelor's in philosophy on his way to a doctorate.

His sister, Karen, is a secretary for Miami of Ohio's fraternities. Mom is retired back in Oxford, where T-Byrd had his first job as a minister after divinity school.

After seven years preaching at the Oxford church, he went to a Cincinnati church in a rough neighborhood.

"There was a drive-by shooting on the corner, on the corner of the church. They asked: Would I do the funeral?"

He had been working for a dozen years at that church, Inspirational Baptist Church, when he received a phone call from Palm Beach Atlantic University's then-dean of ministry, Dr. Ken Mahanes.

"I had called a friend at a divinity school in Alabama," Mahanes recounted, "and said, 'I need the best African-American minister in the United States.' "

Diversity goal at PBAU

Mahanes, who today is PBAU's vice president for religious life, had decided when he was running the school of ministry that "I wanted to bring in some color. Racial and ethnic diversity."

PBAU was too white.

"Yes, and I wanted the best, and after I heard about Dr. Byrd, I was just absolutely convinced he was the one," Mahanes said.

"He wasn't on a short list. He was the list."

Mahanes said he wanted the-hard-to-find someone with equal teaching and preaching experience.

Byrd had taught at two universities — University of Cincinnati and Mount St. Joseph's College — along with running churches.

Byrd was stunned by Mahanes' call. He had finally built his Cincy congregation from 250 to more than 800 members and was in the process of building a new church.

"It took a year to decide," he says. "We had just bought 8 acres in Cincinnati to build the new church and family life center. We had paid off the $250,000 lot."

Married 30 years now, his wife, Toni, who went to high school in Oxford, had a head teller's job in Cincinnati. Her aging mom was an Oxford native and resident. Toni had a big vote in the possible move to PBAU in 1999.

"We decided that maybe this opportunity was a godsend," recalls Byrd. "Where I'm supposed to be. I love teaching. While I was pastoring, I knew my heart was in the classroom more than the pulpit."

Everyone around PBAU calls him T-Byrd, which is why there's a model of a 1957 Thunderbird on his desk in his office at the school's college of ministry.

It was, he can say now, a good move to PBAU.

Toni works in the finance department for the city of Delray Beach.

The couple's three daughters — Kasha Deese, 31, Terra, 25, and Rachel, 24 — are all doing fine.

Rachel is a teacher in Fort Lauderdale. Terra got married to the minister who's running Byrd's former Cincinnati church. Kasha Deese works at a car dealership and lives in Deerfield Beach.

Her son, Julian, 10, keeps 50-year-old T-Byrd movin'.

"He's the joy of my life and Toni's. We're always running to keep up with his games, baseball and soccer.

"He challenges me on computer games," says gramps, laughing. " ?'I'm going to beat you, old man,' he says. He beats me at EA Sports baseball, but I win at Madden football."

These are good days, indeed, to be Dr. Terriel Byrd: author, teacher of the year, guest preacher and grandpa.

Find this article at: the PBP website.

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