True Power

True Power

Wednesday, February 2, 2011



When Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, the first woman to be elected bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, was speaking to a graduate class at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, she said, "You have been prepared to be critical thinkers ... open your eyes and seek new ideas ... find new ways to explore new spiritual frontiers."

McKenzie was born in Baltimore, Maryland, May 1947 to Ida Murphy Smith and Samuel Edward Smith. After attending high school as one of six Black students at Eastern High School, she went on to Blair School of Journalism for a brief period before enrolling at Morgan State University (MSU) where she majored in history. McKenzie then earned her Bachelor's degree at the University of Maryland, College Park and began working for her family newspaper, the "Afro- American." There, she wrote her own column, "The McKenzie Report."

While attending MSU, she met her future husband, Stan McKenzie of the Baltimore Bullets basketball team and later, the Phoenix Suns, Arizona. In Arizona, she worked for the "Arizona Republic" newspaper, and after returning to Baltimore, McKenzie transitioned to radio and television journalism hosting gospel programs on local radio stations. She also served as vice-president of programming at WJZ-TV station.
McKenzie finally walked away from journalism and enrolled at Howard University's Divinity School in Washington, D.C. where she earned a Master's degree followed by a Doctor of Ministry degree from Union Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. In 1984, she was ordained a deacon and the following year, the pastor of Oak Street AME church in Baltimore. Being first has become commonplace for McKenzie. She was the first woman to pastor the Payne Memorial AME church in Baltimore, Maryland prior to becoming the first woman to be elected bishop in the 213-year history of the church in 2000 and also the first woman bishop to preside over the council of bishops, the governing body of the AME church.

During her tenure at Payne, McKenzie secured funds for a welfare-to-work program with the State of Maryland where approximately 600 men and women were educated, trained and placed in jobs, leaving the welfare system. In addition, she led the church to purchase a building and turned it into an economic development complex, with a senior-citizen center, a Headstart program and several other businesses.

McKenzie was also active in organizing the Collective Banking Group of Baltimore, the Church Health Alliance and was president of the AME Ministerial Alliance.
Her first assignment as bishop placed her over the Eighteenth Episcopal District, which included Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa. There McKenzie embarked on a vigorous campaign to strengthen the district's infra-structure. She instituted an ambitious agenda creating computer labs, entrepreneurial projects, educational workshops for teachers, new classrooms and an increase in schools supplies, giving life and vigor to the school students.
After serving in Southern Africa, McKenzie moved to the Thirteenth Episcopal District covering Kentucky and Tennessee. She has authored several books including "Not Without Struggle" (1996) and "Strength in the Struggle." (2006).
Bishop Vashti and Stan McKenzie are the parents of three children: Jon-Mikael, Jasmine and Joi-Marie.Â


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