Thomas Dexter “T.D.” Jakes

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Thomas Dexter “T.D.” Jakes

The pandemic is running rampant in the Black community. Some want to talk about it, some don’t, and the topics of sex, homosexuality and drug use only cloud reality and incite fear. What would you do? What would Bishop T.D. Jakes do?

Why, take the HIV/AIDS test.

It may have been one small swab of saliva, but it was one giant leap for the African American church. And for the man who got tested, it was merely one more step in a life of service.

Pastor, author, artist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and international influence, Thomas Dexter “T.D.” Jakes was born in South Charleston, West Virginia in 1957, the youngest of three children. His father, Ernest Jakes, Sr., was an entrepreneur; his mother, Odith Jakes, was an educator. Both parents’ commitment to the community influenced their son, who was 14 when his father died of kidney failure. In 1979, Jakes entered the ministry when he and a congregation of ten people founded the Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith in West Virginia.

More than 25 years later, Christianity Today magazine called Bishop Jakes’ church in Dallas, The Potter’s House, “one of America’s fastest-growing mega-churches.” In 2001, a Time magazine cover asked, “Is This Man the Next Billy Graham?” Multiracial and nondenominational, The Potter’s House has 50-plus active outreach ministries, more than 30,000 members, and a full-time staff of 300.

To address social and economic disparities, Bishop Jakes founded the Metroplex Economic Development Corporation, a non-profit that sponsors home ownership conferences and youth mentorship programs. To foster education, Bishop Jakes founded Clay Academy in honor of his mother. The world-class private college preparatory school is the centerpiece of Capella Park, a residential subdivision currently under development and featuring more than a thousand single-family homes ranging from $100,000 to $500,000. For the incarcerated, The Potter’s House has invested more than half a million dollars in programs and services to equip, empower, support, and restore offenders, former offenders and their families. Local churches also are trained to more quickly mainstream former offenders and help their families. The “Adopt-a-Prison” program’s spiritual support, through a network of churches, significantly helps reduce recidivism.

Among their efforts overseas, The Potter’s House built a hospital in Belize and water wells in Kenya. In addition, Bishop Jakes has published more than 30 books, many of which have appeared on best-seller lists. So prolific is this hero, in February 2005, Time featured him on the cover again, listing him among the country’s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals.”

And he’s also taken the HIV test.

Jakes said he wanted to show that no one should be afraid of a simple test that can protect people from a disease that kills African Americans disproportionately.

“More has to be done to halt the spread of this preventable and treatable disease and to address these frightening circumstances in the lives of all our brothers, sisters and children, wherever they may live,” said Jakes as members of his congregation and ministerial staff (who also took the test) watched. Jakes’ public exam was followed by a Gospel concert and an impassioned sermon—part of observances of the 19th Annual International World AIDS Day. During the event, Jakes also announced that The Potter’s House Counseling Center would launch “It’s Time to Step Up!” a comprehensive national and international awareness campaign that advocates HIV/AIDS awareness, education, prevention, testing and optimal treatment and also serves as a call to action to the faith community.

“We believe everyone has a role to play in educating the community about the challenges and issues surrounding this pandemic,” said Jakes. “As one of the largest predominately African American churches in the nation, The Potter’s House is stepping up and taking action as part of a national and global offensive against HIV/AIDS.”

Nothing new for a man who’s visited the White House under different administrations. As part of his ongoing efforts, T.D. Jakes has been taking action and using his massive influence to make a difference in the struggle. The “Time to Step Up” campaign was born out of the success of several HIV/AIDS workshops and testing events, including one of the largest religious events in the nation, MegaFest 2006, where more than 600 attendees were tested.

Not content to merely deal with the pandemic in America, Bishop Jakes has also taken action on the mother continent. Recently, The Potter’s House partnered with World Vision to bring “Step Into Africa” to Dallas. The interactive exhibit features a journey into an AIDS-affected community in Africa, as seen through the eyes of four children. Visitors to the 2,600 square-foot exhibit experience a virtual tour by walking though a replica of an African village while listening on headsets to a personal audio track telling the story of a child whose life has been affected by AIDS. The stories profiled in the exhibit are those of four real children touched by the work of World Vision, and are based on true events.

“We are honored to provide our community with an opportunity to see, hear and experience in a personal way the lives of these African children,” said Jakes. “The AIDS pandemic is possibly the greatest medical, social and economic challenge our world as a whole now faces, it is imperative that we step up and obliterate this disease not only in our community but around the world.”

A tall order, but one gets the feeling Bishop T.D. Jakes is up for the challenge and ready to be tested, time and again.

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