James Locker moved to Youngstown in 1970 after having graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., but found he didn’t know anyone.
The first local family he met, however, told him about a church and its charismatic minister, who later paved the way for Locker to go from being a stranger to the area to serving the community in numerous ways.
The minister was the Rev. Lonnie K.A. Simon, longtime pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church, 1507 Hillman St., on the South Side.
“I visited [New Bethel] one Sunday and I’ve been here ever since,” Locker, a 43-year member, joyously recalled.
On Saturday, Locker was at New Bethel, though for a more solemn occasion: He was part of a standing-room-only crowd that filled the church for a 2 ½-hour “Celebration and Homegoing” service for the Rev. Mr. Simon, who died Monday in ValleyCare Northside Medical Center. He was 87.
The gathering honored and celebrated the life and countless accomplishments of Mr. Simon, who served as New Bethel’s pastor for 33 years, and served as a chant leader in the March on Montgomery (Ala.) with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., participated in the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C., and played a role in quieting disturbances on Youngstown’s South Side after Dr. King's assassination.
For more on this story, read Sunday's Vindicator or Vindy.com.