John Atkin Powell, son of Ezra and Annie Bell Powell, was born July 12, 1937, in Chicago, Illinois. He was often seen as “a man long before his time.” A spiritual giant, yet a gentle soul. John spoke to God and God spoke to him. When he boldly approached the throne of grace there was never any doubt that a very important exchange would take place. Nevertheless, one should never consider his capacity to walk softly before God as anything but an act of profound strength. He endured suffering as a good soldier, never complaining about life’s difficulties.
John was a man of great compassion and conviction. He would often step out of his “comfort zone” to engage in difficult conversations, as well as take needed action in order to make life better for others. Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States under the leadership of Barack Obama, reached out to affirm John’s poignant observations concerning how terrorism was being fostered in the cold environs of incarceration and how men of color were being disproportionately targeted.
John was a man who exuded quiet confidence and security. When he married his dear Sara, he defied the societal expectations that were more pervasive 52 years ago. He found joy in sharing Sara and her gift of music with the world in an era whereby cultural and religious norms for marriage could have been a barrier to her music ministry. And as a result, “the inimitable” Sara Jordan Powell was not only introduced to Christendom, but also to millions of people representing all denominations and ethnicities across the globe.
John was a man who valued education. He earned a B.S. degree from Texas Southern University, a Doctorate of Jurisprudence degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law and most recently, an M.Div. degree from Oral Roberts University. While he used his educational accomplishments to encourage others to continue learning, he never lost the common touch with those less educated or less fortunate.
John was passionate about life’s resplendence: a good book and a stunning piece of art. He appreciated beauty in its’ many forms and never winced at expressing it. Many of us may ask the question, “What will we do without John to share all of our news, accomplishments and discoveries?” He recognized the importance and “specialness” of each person he met, and all things related to life. However, John’s greatest attribute was his patience. He was “slow to anger and quick to forgive.” At times, John was almost saint-like when retaliation could be easily justified. He gave people time and space to come to themselves, and he chose grace and mercy over vindication and justice with a seemingly unending endurance.
In John’s transition, we are grateful to have experienced his presence, voice and peace, and we thank God that he is not only in our past as a powerful and precious memory, but also in our glorious future. Seven siblings preceded him in death. John is survived by his wife Sara; their son, Marcellus; sisters, Bernice Carter and Charlestine Whiteurst; brother, Samuel Powell (Leathia); and a host of nieces, nephews, other relatives and friends. We thank you, Sara and Marcellus, for sharing your husband and father with us; he was priceless. The legacy of John Atkin Powell is a reminder for us all to be more present inside the time given us each day for God, our family and others.