Living The Legacy With Rev. Dr. Samuel Casey
by Rachel Dennis ([email protected])
What does it mean to live your legacy? It’s the practice of mindfulness. It’s the balance of trying your best each day while patiently taking life one day at a time. It’s being grateful for the gifts of God while creating a more sustainable and equitable future for those to come. Rev. Dr. Samuel Casey embodies this practice through ministry, as an organizer, and as a good neighbor, striving to create resilient and revitalized communities through Black-led initiatives.
Pastor Casey has been creating and advocating for faith-based communities of color in Southern California’s Inland Empire for the past twenty years. Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement, also known as C.O.P.E., has been his foundational project and living legacy. This organization is at the forefront of youth advocacy, civic engagement, healthcare access, and the fight to end mass incarceration. They are a grassroots movement that strives to empower local Black congregations and community members to take on leadership roles from a place of empathy and compassion.
Pastor Casey’s legacy began long ago, at the age of 6. His first memories of his relationship with God developed as he witnessed the mesmerizing preaching of Rev. Lee Henry Branch at his childhood church in St. Louis, Missouri. These theologies were further rooted in the young boy’s mind by his first Sunday school teacher Ms. Bertha. She made sure that the stories and lessons of the Bible applied to the lives of each student in a practical and relatable way, which allowed for a deeper experience of what it meant to be in relationship with God.
The road to advocacy and leadership was not always a simple one for the Reverend. In his youth, he always felt different, as if there were some destiny in his future, not yet fully revealed or understood. From the age of 14 to 18, Casey departed from the Church and followed paths that ultimately didn’t serve this sense of purpose.
Throughout these uncertain times, Casey carried the childhood lessons he had learned from the church to navigate forward. At the age of 18, a near-death experience illuminated the truth—that God had always been with him as he sought a sense of purpose. He became able to align and commit to a path of faith in an authentic way. From that time forward, at the age of 19, he committed fully to ministry work. Pastor Casey was licensed at Mt. Olive 2nd MBC in 1994 and ordained as a Baptist Minister in 2004.
As Casey embraced his return to the church, his path collided with an opportunity to work with the Future Farmers of America. Through this 93-year-old youth-focused organization, he developed the leadership skills that would allow him to become an advocate for his community. In 1997, he met his mentor Rev. Eugene Williams, II, who served as the leader of the Regional Congregations and Neighborhood Organizations (RCNO). This initiative brought together Black faith organizers who proactively and prophetically created policy change towards ending mass incarceration in the state of California.
In 1998 the late Rev. Williams offered Pastor Casey a job with RCNO that would fully embody his dedication to the mission of revitalizing Black communities. Pastor Casey felt highly aligned with this opportunity. “The work made more sense to me and my path. The organizing helped me to figure out why I was who I was as a child. And I couldn’t just sit still while injustice was taking place.”
Pastor Casey’s work alongside his mentor cultivated the beginnings of C.O.P.E. He founded the organization in 2000 as an affiliate of RCNO. The budding organization connected faith, parent, youth, and community leaders to focus on educational equality, criminal justice reform, and community wellness. They empowered and educated more than 5,000 congregants in the Inland Empire to change the systems that negatively impacted their communities.
With the work of Pastor Casey, Felicia Jones, Rev. Benjamin Briggs, and a team of organizers, coordinators, and consultants, C.O.P.E. began to take a substantial form. Pastor Casey felt empowered to share the lessons he had learned and spiritual gifts he had received with great reach and intentionality.
The programs that Pastor Casey finds the most exciting are those that focus on the work of ending mass incarceration. C.O.P.E. also provides education on local propositions. “We can’t tell you how to vote, but we can give you access to both sides of information.” He views education as a tool that empowers individuals to make fair decisions for their personal lives rather than living at the mercy of policymakers that put potentially harmful legislation in place.
He is also very passionate about providing healthcare access to local communities. C.O.P.E. helps those who are uninsured to get coverage, especially for those who have been formerly incarcerated. In the past year, the organization has been providing rapid response COVID-19 testing. For the past three months, they’ve brought their mobile COVID-19 pop-up clinics throughout the Inland Empire to provide even more access to community members.
Pastor Casey is deeply reflective on the connection of incarceration and the well-being of Black communities to environmental issues. He states that: “In most cases when we’re told about environmental issues, we’re shown pictures of icebergs and polar bears. And not the proliferation of warehouses being constructed in our communities. We don’t talk about the emission from diesel—the toxic waste dumpsites in poor Black communities.
“When we talk about the environment, it’s more than global warming. It’s the entire ecosystem. I don’t need to have the police put their knee on my neck for 8 min 46 sec if I live in a toxic waste area. Higher rates of asthma, pulmonary issues, infant mortality, cancer, and all other diseases transmitted through the environment. We must be at the forefront of those issues and begin to change and build a narrative that makes sense for us as Black people and communities of color.”
Pastor Casey’s personal path has led him towards learning how to enter into Sabbath rest. He grapples with the question of how to strip away the identities of being a preacher, husband, organizer, and father and to return to the place of existing fully as a son of God. He believes this is how we stand in our own power and experience complete love and acceptance as His divine creation. Surrendering into this love allows for the opportunity to recharge and reconnect, which allows us to better advocate and serve in our communities.
Good news is around the corner for the C.O.P.E. community. The Bill and Melinda Gates and William and Flora Hewlett Foundations will be providing resources to breathe life into the mission that Pastor Casey and the late Rev. Eugene Williams, II, have contributed to for decades. This initiative will rebuild the largest statewide network of African American churches. Black-led churches and pastors will focus on community organizing specifically around educational equity and funding for Black students and other students of color in the state of California.
C.O.P.E presented this concept at a meeting in December 2020 with Senator Connie M. Leyva and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, and it was very well received. This group will meet again in the summer of 2021 to start mobilizing on the work ahead and focus on the specific issues of COVID-19 recovery.
This is the major tenet of Rev. Dr. Samuel Casey’s work: to use prophetic engagement as a way to be intentional, informed, and to take action. He compassionately reminds us to take our time, stating that we are running a marathon, not a sprint and that change may not show itself immediately. We have inherited the good work of many disciples and organizers that came before. By acknowledging that the legacy is happening now, we will create a world that better serves justice for ourselves, our community, our planet, and our future.