by Andrew Jones
On January 16, the Dallas Bar Association will honor the Reverend Richie Butler with the 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr. Justice Award. The award recognizes area leaders whose service to the community embodies the example of Dr. King.
The horrific shootings in downtown Dallas on July 7, which left five officers dead and another 11 people injured, proved to Reverend Butler that his efforts were needed—now more than ever. Rev. Butler, who serves as Senior Pastor to the historic St. Paul United Methodist Church (situated just four blocks from the Belo Mansion), has made improvement of racial relations a foundation of his ministry.
In 2014, following several highly publicized incidents of violent encounters between African Americans and law enforcement, many of which were recorded by cell phone video, Rev. Butler took action. With fellow minister Dr. Andy Stoker, Senior Minister at First United Methodist Church Dallas, Rev. Butler launched a “prayer call for racial reconciliation,” which entails weekly Friday morning calls involving pastors across the nation, and increasingly, around the world. The calls give faith leaders from various backgrounds the opportunity to share different perspectives on ways to reach common goals.
Following discussions in the weekly calls, Rev. Butler launched a “Together We Ball” event to bring North Texas pastors and Dallas police together on the basketball court. Pastors and police met in August 2015 at Cobb Field House in South Dallas for a friendly scrimmage. “Sport,” Rev. Butler told the Connection, a United Methodist publication, “is a way of uniting individuals, communities, cities and nations.” The 2015 event was so well received that Rev. Butler hosted it again in August 2016, as “Together We Ball”—a part of his “Project Unity,” whose purpose is to further Rev. Butler’s goals of improved community relations. The 2016 event was expanded to include an “old school free throw contest” involving assorted business and community leaders, bringing further exposure to the program.
“We are underscoring the need and opportunity to move towards healing and collectively build bridges between communities and law enforcement at home and across the country,” Rev. Butler told the Dallas Gospel Connection after the August 2016 event. “By spending an afternoon building relationships, educating all ages, and playing and watching an entertaining game of basketball, we can continue to expect positive results and cool heads when tragedy knocks on our door.”
In 2017, through Project Unity, Rev. Butler plans a “Year of Unity” in partnership with various local organizations, including the Dallas Bar Association. The “Together We” theme will be expanded to additional activities, including “Dine,” “Learn,” “Worship,” “Heal,” “Serve,” and “Pray,” each with corresponding collaborative events designed to strengthen the community.
“Richie Butler follows pathways in profound ways, addressing racial justice and peace,” said Dr. Stoker. “Richie elicits hope. He has been a breath of fresh air to downtown Dallas.”
Rev. Butler commenced his pastoral role at St. Paul United Methodist in 2014, following a unique merger involving St. Paul and Rev. Butler’s former congregation, Union Cathedral. St. Paul, founded in 1873 by people who had been in slavery just a decade earlier, has a rich history steeped in the pursuit of social justice. Dr. Stoker noted that Rev. Butler follows a long line of distinguished St. Paul pastors, including the notable Reverend I. B. Loud (his real name), who Stoker recounted was an outspoken advocate of civil rights in Dallas in the 1950s and ’60s and who, fittingly in light of this year’s award, facilitated visits to Dallas by Martin Luther King, Jr. himself.
Rev. Butler graduated from the Harvard Divinity School and has served as a minister for more than 15 years. Dr. Stokes describes Rev. Butler as a bi-vocational pastor who also works as a commercial real estate developer and real estate fund manager with The Prescott Group. His most noted real estate development was Unity Estates, a planned community sponsored by the African American Pastor’s Coalition in Dallas, which featured 285 single-family homes in southern Dallas. This development was heralded nationally and was the catalyst that spurred nearly $100 million in new development activity in an area that had not experienced any new development in over 20 years.
Rev. Cammy Gaston, who serves as the District Superintendent for 80 United Methodist congregations in Dallas, calls Rev. Butler an “inspirational leader who helps people work together in ways rarely seen. “He has shown a special ability to bring together people from all walks of life—whether government, business or church—and is helping to bring the community together,” Rev. Gaston added.
“Pastor Butler has dedicated his life’s work to helping others and bringing people of all races and backgrounds together,” said DBA President Rob Crain. “The Martin Luther King, Jr. Justice Award lists our City’s most notable leaders as past recipients. I believe Pastor Butler will continue to be one of our City’s most significant leaders in bringing our citizenry closer together.”
Please join us in thanking and honoring Reverend Richie Butler at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Justice Award Luncheon on Monday, January 16 at the Belo Mansion. Members of the DBA and community are invited to attend. For reservations, contact Biri Avina at firstname.lastname@example.org. A plated lunch will be served at a cost of $14.96.
Andrew Jones is in-house counsel at Moneygram International and a Co-Vice Chair of the Publications Committee. He can be reached at email@example.com.