Ben Hill UMC – 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration


MLK JR. CELEBRATION 2018 KEYNOTE SPEAKER:  Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson

W. FRANKLYN RICHARDSON is Senior Pastor of the historic Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, New York. He has been the head of this vibrant, diverse, multi-staffed ministry since April 1975. Under his leadership, the congregation has continually thrived, growing to include more than 4,000 members, as well as a second church in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Dr. Richardson began his career in 1969, serving as pastor of Rising Mt. Zion Baptist Church, located in Richmond, Virginia, and then St. James Baptist Church in Varina, Virginia, prior to taking the helm at Grace Baptist. A graduate of Virginia Union University, Dr. Richardson received his Divinity degree from Yale University Divinity School and his Doctorate of Ministry as a Wyatt Tee Walker Fellow from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Dr. Richardson has received extensive recognition for his dynamic and impactful leadership in ministry with Honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees from several colleges and universities including his alma mater, Virginia Union University. In 1989, Dr. Richardson was inducted into the Martin Luther King, Jr., Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. His tireless efforts to defend and promote justice, fairness, and equality for all people were recognized in 2013, when Morehouse paid tribute to Dr. Richardson once again by inducting him into its International Hall of Honor. Established to celebrate extraordinary persons of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries who have made significant contributions to the global nonviolent movement for civil and human rights, Dr. Richardson’s portrait now resides in the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, alongside images of the greatest leaders of the modern era. A longtime community builder and organizer, Dr. Richardson has played a pivotal role in the grass root efforts of reestablishing a cultural bridge between community and education. He is singularly responsible for leveling the ground by fighting for equitable opportunities in public education in the Mount Vernon community and he has manned the front lines in the battle for just and affordable housing development. His steadfast efforts have resulted two Grace Church related Community Development Corporations, which have constructed more than 100 million dollars in affordable housing to date. Dr. Richardson served as General Secretary for twelve years of the eight-million-member National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., which thrust him into the international arena of the World Council of Churches where he served on its prestigious Central Committee. The World Council represents more than 400 million Christians in 150 nations. He also served on the boards of the Congress of the National Black Churches, the National Urban League, and the Constituency for Africa. A life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Dr. Richardson is also a member of the Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity. This distinguished theologian is an internationally sought after preacher, lecturer and facilitator, having preached on several continents. For the past thirty years, he has been heard throughout the tri-state area on WVOX radio and is viewed on national television every Sunday morning. He is the author of the widely acclaimed, Power of the Pew, and has written extensively on faith-based community developments. Of note: “Mission to Mandate,” in the National Urban League’s State of Black America. In addition to such articles, Dr. Richardson’s most powerful sermons can be found in publications including, Keep the Faith (Welcome Rain Publishers) and Joy to the World (Simon & Schuster). A man of enormous compassion, intuitive reason, absolute commitment, and an incisive mind, Dr. Richardson demonstrates in his persona the marvelous union of passion and intellect. He is a national advocate for economic equity and his counsel and advice are widely solicited in several major corporate boardrooms throughout America. Dr. Richardson currently serves as a director or trustee for Pepsi Cola (Ethnic Advisory Board); the Ujamaa Community Development Corporation; the Harvard University Divinity School Summer Leadership Institute for Church-based Community and Economic Development; Comcast Corporation and NBC Universal Joint Diversity Council; and Grace Community Development Corporation. He is Chairman of the Board of the National Action Network; the Conference of National Black Churches; American Legacy Magazine; and Virginia Union University. Dr. Richardson is married to Inez Nunnally Richardson. They are the parents of three adult children and the grandparents of five.



Outstanding Community Leadership

REV. BRIAN A. TILLMAN was born in Detroit, MI and moved to GA as a teenager. He has a very large and complex family with 3 sets of parents, 5 sisters and 9 brothers. He is married to Shanika L. Tillman and they have a blended family with 4 children (Devin, Marcus, Sophia, and Chloe’). He has served as Associate Pastor of Training and Spiritual Formation at Ben Hill UMC since June 2017. He received a BA in Child Development from Morehouse College in 2003, an M.Ed. from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2007, a M.Div. from Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 2011, became an Elder in Full Connection in 2015, and holds a Certificate from the Reynolds Program in Church Leadership (2017). Rev. Tillman has served previously as the Pastor of Congregational Care at McEachern Memorial UMC and Pastor of Nurture at Johns Creek UMC. He continues to serve at the North GA Conference as Chair of Religion and Race where he works to bring the church to racial justice and reconciliation, a passion which began for him at Morehouse College as a Chapel Assistant, continued at Candler School of Theology with the creation of the Candler Society for Multiracial Congregations, and furthered into the local church with the formation of racial justice discussion groups and a racial justice advocacy group in Johns Creek. He currently writes for Rev. Tillman is committed to the core values of grace & mercy AND justice & righteousness, all wrapped in the love of Jesus Christ.

CEMETERY PROJECTION:  For Rev. Brian Tillman and the family members involved, what started as an initiative to add a historical marker for a cemetery where persons who were likely enslaved are buried, became a four year project that resulted in the equitable transfer of property, forgiveness, and healing across the racial divide.

Rev. Tillman worked to create a board of church members from Johns Creek UMC and they began the long process of obtaining ownership of the cemetery for the descendants of those buried there. Very early in the process a member of the family of those buried joined them and became a champion for the work. A special non-profit 5.01.c13 designation for cemeteries was created. The working group attended zoning and city council meetings to oppose the rezoning of the tract of land that includes the cemetery that some of the enslavers’ descendants were trying to rezone to eventually build a subdivision at some unspecified future date.

Although the efforts of Rev. Tillman and the group were not received well by all members of the landowning family, one particular member was more open and willing to work with them.  At one pivotal juncture they met at the old 1839 farm house with the ax grinds visible throughout the home, likely built by those enslaved. Two archeological surveys and 1 land survey was done with donated funds. After the surveys, they began drawing up a deed and negotiated over the language. As they worked together, the group of 3 became very close. They visited a descendant of the landowning family in the hospital and prayed for him.  They had many lunches together. At one lunch, the member of the landowning family voiced regret for the actions of his ancestors. He fully understood what he was doing and was sincerely regretful. Rev. Tillman remembers him saying, “deeding the Cemetery to your family is the least I can do.” The descendant of those buried truly appreciated his sincerity and the careful work of reconciliation was in process.

On October 5, 2017, Rev. Tillman was the witness when he met with the oldest descendant of the landowning family and a vital descendant of those likely enslaved and a deed to the cemetery was signed and notarized. “I could see the hand of God at work the whole four years. In the end, I didn’t just witness the signing of this historical transfer of ownership. I witnessed “the release of the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, the oppressed set free, and the Lord’s favor,” grace, mercy, love, and reconciliation.”


Outstanding Leadership

BETTYE CORNELIUS is an Atlanta native and retired from the United States Postal Service as Manager of Logistics in 2000. She currently continues to work with United States Postal Service Retirees. She joined Ben Hill UMC under the leadership of Rev. Walter Kimbrough and became involved in numerous church ministries over the years. Currently, she is Chairperson of the Communion Stewards Ministry and works with communion and sanctuary preparation. She also delivers Holy Communion to those unable to attend worship. She participates with the Ben Hill United Methodist Women, serves as the Treasurer of the Atlanta College Park District of United Methodist Women, and is very involved with Disciple Fast Tract Bible Study Class. Bettye nurtures the needy in many ways, serves the community well and promotes justice. She consistently performs with humility, whether in the local church, at the district level, or in the community. She continues to develop in servant leadership and practices God’s word in the work she does with love.


JOHNNIE FOLLINS was born in Port Allen, Louisiana and was an honor graduate of Johnnie Follins was born in Port Allen, LA and was an honors graduate of the public school system. She was employed at Southern University and moved to Atlanta in 1972 to work as Director of the Follow Through Program at Clark Atlanta University. She retired from the Educational Testing Service as Director of Urban Initiative. She served as a National Sales Consultant providing training, technical assistance, research and evaluation services to school administrators, teachers and parents. Johnnie joined Ben Hill UMC in 1976 and has served on the administrative board, church council, nominations and leadership development, certified lay servants ministry, stewardship task force, gift legacy, angel tree ministry and the task force to reassess the Christian Academy. She has served as chairperson of the Ben Hill Training Institute, facilitated lessons in Sunday school, and is active with the Jewels and Partners, United Methodist Women and Communion Stewards. Johnnie is the mother of Tracy Ricard and Melissa Finch; grandmother of Morgan, Ashley, Justin and Ashton; and great grandmother of Sebastian and Denver. She is a 20-year member of TLC book club and a proud member of the Atlanta alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

JEFFREY CHRISTOPHER GREENE  has devoted over 25 years in working, serving and ministering at Ben Hill UMC. He has served as Area Co-Chair for the Conference for Family Life Ministries Campus Crusade for Christ (from which the Heart of Marriage Retreat was formed), worked with the Youth Lock-In, developed the Training Initiative for youth in the Communications Ministry, and served as co-leader of the Boy Scouts Troop. Currently, he works in Communications at Ben Hill and coordinates the church-wide audio-visual needs of the various ministries. He is well trained, highly skilled, and consistently provides service excellence always with a smile. His greatest accomplishment is his family. He is a loving husband to Toya and proud father of six wonderful children – Charmaine, Solomon, Joel, Christen, Grace and Emmanuel.


Outstanding Youth

AARON JOSHUA SETH BURRAS, a senior at Grady High School, is the son of Linda and Wade Burras and younger sibling of Gideon Burras – a student at Columbus State University. At Ben Hill UMC, Aaron is very active in Youth Word Made Flesh, Youth Council, and the Youth Choir. He has traveled on several missionary trips, including South Africa in December 2016. At school, Aaron plays Varsity basketball and is a member of the National Junior Beta Club and the National Honor Society. He is also Vice-President of Skills USA, a member of 21st Century Leaders, a No Place For Hate Advocate, and one of the main producers of the school’s news network GNN. Aaron was a Posse Nominee making it to the semi-finals.After high school, he plans to attend Howard University and pursue a double major in Sports Medicine and Secondary Education, with a minor in Broadcasting and Film. Aaron loves singing and is thankful to God for such a special gift. He loves the Lord, cherishes his family and also treasures his Ben Hill United Methodist Church family.


Outstanding Ministry


In January 1990, Mrs. Irmagene Embry was elected the Chairperson of the Older Adult Ministry for persons over the age of 50. Under her leadership, the Ben Hill Jewels Ministry was established. Membership as a Jewel was open to persons over the age of 65 while Partners membership was open to people ages 40 to 64. Partners serve as support to the Jewels. This action united the older adults at Ben Hill United Methodist Church. Under the leadership of Chair Servant Mrs. Catherine Moon beginning in 1993, the Jewels Ministry was renamed the Jewels and Partners Ministry and the motto: “Sowing the Seeds – Loving, Caring and Sharing” was adopted. Today, that motto continues to be the focus of the Jewels and Partners Ministry as the members share and care for the community, and one another, by partnering with other organizations and visiting, calling, and sending written communications to sick and shut in members. The Jewels and Partners Outreach endeavors include: Working with Smart Lunch/Smart Kids by distributing Enrichment Leaning Materials to several local apartment complexes, distributing blankets and toiletries to Our Sister’s House, and partnering with the United Methodist Women to welcome students returning from summer break at Fickett Elementary School. In addition to community outreach, the Jewels and Partners participated with Vacation Bible School and served as judges at the Asbury Harris Epworth Tower Halloween event. The goal of the Jewels and Partners ministry is to continue partnering with the community and assuring that those who are unable to participate in church service feel the warmth and love of their Sisters and Brothers In Christ. Chair Servants who have contributed to the growth of the Ministry throughout the years are as follows: Irmagene Embry, Catherine Moon, Camellia Flanigan, Bernice Anderson, Eldridge Stephens, Sherri Tucker Brown and current chair Vicki Callaway.