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By: Rebecca S. Jones
By: Rebecca S. Jones

Everyone is not privileged to genuinely sing the song, “May the Works I’ve Done Speak for Me” and resonate that they have lived the life accordingly. Nonetheless, one of Houston’s own is definitely worthy of the praises that this song yields. Johnny A. Tates is a powerful preaching and teaching machine, and one that has made full proof of the ministry for nearly 40 years. Evidently, his loyalty and commitment to the faith has been acknowledged and recognized. Thus this man of integrity and nobility was recently appointed to the office of Bishop in the Church of God in Christ faith. Read on to become acquainted with this awesome man of the cloth!

Bishop Johnny A. Tates was initially reared in the Fourth Ward community until his parents relocated to the legend-producing, Fifth Ward segment of the city in 195
0. His fundamental years of education were spent in the Houston Independent School District. He attended Kashmere High School, from grades 7-12. Attending school with students from different age brackets assisted Tates at an early age with his maturity level and development. He revealed during an interview that, “Being exposed to his upperclassmen and having the ability to socialize and network with them was a tremendous experience.”

At the time that Tates was attending high school his principal, Dr. Bryant had received certification in the gifted and talented program from John Hopkins University in 1957, after Kashmere first opened. As a result, he tested all of the incoming seventh-graders and the highest scoring students on the tests were grouped together. That number amounted to 33 students, who were chosen to be a part of the “Gifted and Talented” program. Back then, Tates was privileged to be coupled with the likes of individuals such as: Dr. Casey in Philadelphia who was valedictorian of their class and Dr. Herman Mabrie, III, M.D. who currently practices medicine in Houston, as the salutatorian of their class. Other influential personalities from their class included: Dr. Patrick W. Wills, M.D. and Dr. Richard Evans (Des Moines, Iowa), amidst a gallery of others. Tates said, “It was very special to me to be exposed to those young people for 7 of my 8 classes and it really helped develop me and them.” He continued, “I believe if you talk to them, they would agree that the fact that we were able to interact with one another at an early age went well for all of us.” In reference to those golden years, Tates said, “A lot of people with very high ranks came out of Kashmere, and I give all the credit to Dr. Bryant’s brilliance and the teachers that helped formulate our preparatory stages.”

After graduating high school, he was given a short list of options on an index card from his father. They included: go to the military, become a police officer, go to school or move out. He had already set his sight on attending Howard University. Yet his oldest sister the late Laverne Colvin had begun college already and his father earned enough money as a barber and beautician, which would not allow their family to qualify for loans. Therefore, his father asked him to wait a couple of years and transfer to Howard later. As a result, Tates went to Texas Southern University.  By the time his junior year arrived, his younger sister Inez had enrolled into TSU. Therefore, they rode to school together and he finished out his final years at TSU. Consequently, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Design and Engineering Technology. A few years later, he acquired a Master’s degree in Municipal Planning and Public Policy. He also has a 2nd Master’s in Secondary Education.

Secular Experience

In 1966, Tates secured employment at Shell Oil as a Service Engineer (Janitor). He explained that even while working at a low level, he was earning over $600 a month. During this dispensation, $600 was a lot of money for working adults. He would go on to work there until he graduated from college. Upon graduating from TSU, he was recruited into the Oil Production and Research industry. In this capacity, he would track and define all of the salt and sulfate in high-content areas. Petroleum, salt and sulfate are the resources that Shell used to find drilling. Fortunately, Tates was on the team that discovered the highest probability of oil on all of the Shell-owned properties around Australia. 13895322_1625663721079287_5955867565114287816_n

Having received much success in the oil industry, he was then recruited by a head hunter to venture into a Structural Engineering initiative with Bethlehem Steel Corporation in 1970. He took advantage of the opportunity and was afforded the privilege to study structural engineering from Lee High University. In the course of doing so, he designed most of the structural steel in the Chase Tower (59-tower building in Downtown Houston). He also worked with W.S. Bellows Construction, during this phase. He was responsible for the foundation of the Pennzoil plant in Houston. The Nuclear containment building for the South Texas Nuclear Project in Bay City was also implemented by him. Within his tenure at Bethlehem, he led, spearheaded and worked on a slew of projects; so many that space, would not allow me to list everyone.

After resigning from Bethlehem, he did some work for the Texas Highway Department and Continental Steel. He was a part of the effort that designed the five-bridge bypass around Cleveland, Texas. After a brief period of unemployment, he went to work for the Houston Independent School District (HISD) in 1984-85. He initiated his career at HISD as a Supervisor for one of four transportation centers in the district. Opposed to his continual advancement at Bethlehem Steel, Tates soared through the ranks rapidly within the school district. After dedicating nearly two decades of service to HISD, he retired in 2000. By the time, he retired he’d held several administrative positions: including Deputy Superintendent for Facilities Management, Operations and Transportation from 1994 until January of 2000, under the management of Dr. Rod Paige. In January 2000, he began to serve in the Alief Independent School District, as Deputy Superintendent for Administrative Services until his retirement in June 2007. According to his biography, “In these roles and various others that he has filled, he has functioned in critical decision-making, including the employment of architects and contractors in the HISD $678 Million dollar Bond Program.”

The Struggle

Although, Bishop Tates has had a well-productive and successful career in more than one arena, he is certain that it did not come without a cost. During our interview, I asked him about struggles and challenges that he had to overcome in order to attain a level of success. He reminisced back to his early adulthood when he worked as an engineer. He conveyed that in the midst of the six years that he trained as an engineer, all of those he trained proceeded to become his supervisor the following year. After some time, it became blatantly obvious to him that he was smart enough to train his White counterparts; but not supervise them apparently. When he asked why he was passed over for so many promotions, he was told that he was the best engineer on the board and the point was not to take him off of the board because of his knowledge, technique and style. Tates shared that he told his superior, “Well then, you too dumb for me to work for; because if you had put me over the department I would have trained everybody.” 

Accordingly, he made the decision to resign from Bethlehem Steel and a year later they went out of business in Houston. In an ironic turn of event, years after his leaving Bethlehem; the same man that refused to promote him saw him on television being interviewed by the national media and called him up the next day. It just so happened, that he had taken a downward spiral in life and Tates ultimately hired him to work for HISD. While there remained many other challenges that would confront him throughout the years, he maintains that he always kept his trust in the Everlasting Father and he has been abundantly blessed for doing so. He said in regards to him being passed over multiple times that he recognized it all was the hand of the Lord at work in his life. He expressed that, “If they had not passed over me I would not have left the company, and if I never would have left then I would have never made it to HISD.  So, the second part of my career is a result of me not having been shown favor in the first part of my career.”

The Religious Experience

The year was 1979. It was then that Tates had an encounter with the Lord that would change his life forever. He was saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost. His experience was one that to this day he has never forgotten. One day he was playing basketball at TSU and injured his knee. After having surgery on his knee, he was placed in a body cast for 13 weeks. His knee developed keloids as a result of the healing process and he was unable to bend his knee. Medical professionals discussed different avenues in regards to his recovery. Granted, much of the new developments that are available now, were not yet in place during that era. As such, part of his recovery was to hang his leg off of the bed with weights attached, in order for him to gain strength in his leg again. He shared that it was a painful situation and he passed out several times during. One day, he went by his father’s house who was a Pastor, his father prayed for him and much to his chagrin he immediately began to have increased motion in his knee. Upon returning to his therapist the next day, he was inquired as to what had happened to him the day before? It was then that he exclaimed to his therapist, “I found the Lord!” The therapist told him that it was obvious something had changed, because he had too much range and motion in comparison with other days.

From Discipleship to Leadership

In May of 1983, Tates received a call to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He made haste and preached his first sermon in June of 1983 at Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, under his father’s leadership (the late Pastor Inez Tates). His father also licensed him into the ministry in 1985. He was ordained as an Elder in 1987, at the hands of Bishop R.E. Woodard, Sr., at Williams Temple Church of God in Christ. Afterwards, he became an Associate Minister under his father’s administration. Over time, he became the Assistant Pastor under his father until 1995. It was then, that his father put him in charge of the church and finally he became the Senior Pastor in 2000, at his father’s request.  Throughout his ministry he has had the unpleasant tasks of burying all manner of friends and family, including both his parents: the late Missionary Vivian Tates as well as his father. He described his father as a wonderful role model and his best friend.

In 2007, he was appointed as the Pastor of the Powerhouse C.O.G.I.C. on 9118 Hirsch Road, by Bishop Rufus Kyles. At the same time, he was appointed Superintendent.

Prior to that, he’d served as the Assistant Superintendent for the Northeast Houston District under the leadership of the former pastor of Powerhouse C.O.G.I.C., Dr. Robert J. Anderson. At present, the district has beneath it: Faith Temple C.O.G.I.C. – Englewood (Pastor J.D. Scott), Jensen Drive Fellowship C.O.G.I.C. (Pastor Amel Quillin, Jr.), Kingdom Harvest C.O.G.I.C., (Pastor Aaron Houston, Livingston, TX), Horizons C.O.G.I.C. (Pastor Eddie L. Stallworth, Katy, TX), Believers Chapel C.O.G.I.C. (Pastor Chad Stephenson) and Rhema Cathedral C.O.G.I.C. (Pastor William C. Chillis). He has faithfully served under the jurisdiction of which he is currently in as: Chairman under AIM Auxiliaries in Ministry for four years; Secretary for the Superintendent’s Council, three years; Assistant Chairman for Superintendent, two years; Chairman of the Superintendents Council, four years and has remained a life-long member of the Texas Southeast First Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction. In August, he was selected to ascend to the level of Bishop in August, 2016. He was consecrated into that sacred office on November 13, in St. Louis, Missouri.

To add to his religious portfolio: his Bible training consists of several scholastic terms in both the C.H. Mason System, under the leadership of Dr. A.J. Hines and the Moody Bible Institute System @ Houston, under the leadership of his father – Pastor Inez Tates. He served as an instructor in both networks for a combination of 15 years.

When asked of advice to members of the Black community, Bishop Tates offered mighty wholesome words. In it he revealed the following. “History has shown that we have always done better when we depended on one another. The integration of schools and commercialism has still left us on the down side. Most of our businesses thrived when we serviced one another. Now non African-Americans do our hair, nails and feet, take care of our shoes, cleaning and laundry, maintenance on our vehicles and plumbing and construction work. Even in the religious aspect we go to others for counsel and other factors so our churches don’t thrive. Our communities don’t even survive because integration has brought us now a freedom that no other race has left to enjoy. Although we integrate churches, ball parks and politics, we are still the only section that does not benefit from integration.”

Over the years, Bishop Tates has remained a community and religious leader who is also an avid supporter of civic and community organizations. These affiliations include but are not limited to; the TSU Alumni Association, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Acres Home Chamber for Business and Economic Development (AHCBED), North-side Civic Association, Third Ward Redevelopment Council, Kashmere High School Alumni Association, Executive Committee for the Sam Houston Area Boy Scouts, Distinctive African-Americans, the International Organization of Who’s Who in School Business, Houston Association of Black School Educators and the International Council of Educational Facility Planners. Furthermore, he has served on the Board of Directors for: Families Under Urban & Social Attack; Vice-Chairman of the City of Houston’s Water Board from 1996 until 2002 and is President of the Board of Directors for the Wills Group, (non-profit organization instituted to support under-privileged youth for scholarships and resources). To add, he was inducted into Texas Southern University’s Hall of Fame in 2000 and into Kashmere High School’s Hall of Fame in 2013.

Bishop Tates has been married to Missionary Lee M. Elam-Tates, the love of his life for 42 years. Together, they share two children: Pastor Patrick Joubert (Fellowship Church in Fort Worth) and Sis. Shontae Shirley. They also have five grandchildren: Leon Shirley, III, Andrew Lawrence Joubert, Johnnie Andrew Shirley, Andrea Joubert and Nadia Shirley

At the conclusion of our interview, Bishop Tates stressed that he could not exit our conversation without acknowledging his special friend. He said, “Meeting Roy Malonson through Rod Paige back in 1988 was also the hand of the Lord. Malonson is a very unique friend – a lot of people that never got to know him don’t know that he has a heart of gold. He exudes an exterior of steel but I got to know he and Lady Shirley and I found him to be a man that really has a heart of gold.”