Clergyman, gospel singer, humanitarian, entrepreneur
Grammy Award nominee and internationally renowned gospel singer Wintley Phipps is also known as "the most politically influential Seventh-Day Adventist minister," according to Mark August of Adventist Review, who "in voice and fervor … is another Martin Luther King," according to Thomas Winship of Editor & Publisher. Yet Phipps' inspiration of others extends further: he started the U.S. Dream Academy, a tutoring and mentoring program for at-risk children, which eventually won him such accolades as the Use Your Life Award from Oprah Winfrey and an Excellence in Mentoring for Program Leadership Award from the MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership. A man whose vision for his own life has taken him further than he could first see, Phipps dedicated himself to helping others envision what they too can become, and to start striving for it.
Born to a Troubled Home
Wintley Augustus Phipps was born in Trinidad, West Indies, on January 7, 1955. Phipps' family struggled in the West Indies. He remembered being "born to a troubled home," according to remarks he delivered at the National Truancy Prevention Conference in 2004. He explained that he would use the wheel of his up-turned tricycle and his imagination to whisk him away from the strife in his youth. "I would dream that I was flying and driving to far away places in the world and meeting important people when I was four and five years old." The Phippses moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In Canada Phipps attended Kingsway College, a Seventh-Day Adventist high school with the motto "service not fame." By age 16 Phipps determined that he would dedicate his talents to the service of God. And it has been through his service since that Phipps has become famous.
Phipps pursued an education in religion at Seventh-Day Adventist institutions in the United States, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in theology from Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, and a Master of Divinity degree from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Although Phipps had grown up hearing and singing church music, it was in Alabama that Phipps first heard black gospel music. The music struck a chord within him and he began writing his own. Phipps also found encouragement for his musical gifts from the director of the Oakwood College Aeolians Choir, Alma Blackmon, who helped advance Phipps' singing career.
With his resonant baritone voice and easy charm, Phipps built an international reputation as a moving gospel singer. He toured almost every country in the world singing inspirational music, often appearing at Billy Graham's crusades in various locations around the globe. In his travels, Phipps had occasion to meet such singing celebrities as Sly Stone, Tom Jones, and Stevie Wonder. "Even though they had the world at their feet, they were not happy," Phipps told August, adding "and I wanted to be happy." Despite invitations to audition and tour with such popular stars as the Tempations and Diana Ross in the early 1980s, Phipps remained focused on his spiritual message. Yet he did not cut himself off from popular entertainment. He became the first gospel singer to appear on the popular Soul Train musical television show and even appeared on the comedy series Saturday Night Live. He was also nominated for Grammy Awards in 1988 and 1989.
Phipps coupled his international musical career with the responsibilities of leading church congregations. A vibrant and energetic pastor, Phipps bolstered the spiritual and financial foundations of three Washington, D.C.-area Seventh-Day Adventist Churches. His success brought him recognition within the church community. He was elected by Delegates at the 56th World Congress of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1995 as the associate world director of the Church's Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department.
Befriended the World's Most Influential People
The advantages to being located in the heart of American government were not lost on Phipps. Phipps, a masterful networker, made contact with—and often befriended—some of the world's most influential people of various political affiliations. He has sung for five presidents: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and George W. Bush. He joined Jesse Jackson on a tour of African states to see the affects of apartheid. He witnessed Nelson Mandela's release from prison in South Africa. He sang at two Democratic national conventions, at the Vatican, and was the last person to publicly sing "Amazing Grace" for Mother Teresa before her death.
It was Phipps' contact with Charles Colson, who started the Prison Fellowship Ministry after serving time for his part in the Watergate Affair, that helped to spark the next stage in his career. As part of the Prison Fellowship Ministry, Phipps toured and sang at prisons around the country. Astonished by the number of black men and women in prison, Phipps began to study social patterns and developed a deep understanding of the underlying reasons for that large number. He learned that a huge percentage of children with parents in prison also become incarcerated at some point in their lives. Phipps traced the problem to his own family. His wife was the only one of her seven brothers and sisters to have never been incarcerated. Several of her sibling's children also served time in prison. The pattern hit home with Phipps while visiting a women's prison in Florida; there he encountered a pregnant woman who turned out to be his wife's niece.
Phipps thought long and hard how to stop the problem. He looked at his own life. In interviews and in speeches over the years, Phipps often noted that "neither I nor my wife, had good examples of happy and successful marriages in our respective families," as he told August. But together they had determined to do better, to build a solid family life. Phipps married Linda Diane Galloway in the mid-1970s, and the couple eventually had three sons. Despite his heavy touring schedule, Phipps took care to include his family, bringing them with him on extended trips. He considered his family to be his "greatest accomplishment," as he put it in his speech at the Truancy Prevention conference, noting that he and his wife would be celebrating more than 20 years of marriage. Family, Phipps knew from experience, was one of the keys to success in life.
At a Glance …
Born Wintley Augustus Phipps on January 7, 1955, in Trinidad, West Indies; raised in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; naturalized as US citizen, 1995; married Linda Diane Galloway, 1976(?); children: Wintley Augustus II, Winston Adriel, and Wade Alexander. Education: Oakwood College, Huntsville, AL, BS, religion; Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI, MDiv. Religion: Seventh-Day Adventist.
Career: Ordained Seventh-Day Adventist pastor, Washington, DC, area and Florida; Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department, associate world director, 1995–98; U.S. Dream Academy, Columbia, MD, president and founder, 1998–; Songs of Freedom Publishing Co., founder; Coral Records Recording Co., founder; World of Praise Television Ministries, Managing Director.
Memberships: International Religious Liberty Association; Operation ReachBack; Prison Fellowship Ministries; Scholarship America.
Awards: Grammy award nominations, 1988 and 1989; MENTOR, Oprah Winfrey, Use Your Life Award, for U.S. Dream Academy, 2001; Excellence in Mentoring, for Program Leadership, 2004; Waynesburg College, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Addresses: Home—Florida. Agent—Larry Sparks Agency, 2639 Lavery Court, Suite 5, Newbury Park, CA 91320.
Founded the U.S. Dream Academy
"Almost 70 percent of children that end up in prison come from those in prison now," Phipps reported at the Truancy Prevention conference. To devise a plan to help break the cycle of children following their parents to prison, Phipps called on his vast network of influential contacts. He assembled a commission of such people as Dr. Ben Carson, Head of Pediatric Neuro-surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital; Clarence Hodges, former Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of State; Pat Nolan, then-President and CEO of Justice Fellowship and Senior Vice-President of Prison Fellowship Ministries, among others in the mid-1990s. "All of the research and best practices pointed unequivocally to the power of mentoring in a child's life," Phipps said an on-line interview with MENTOR. In 1997, Phipps presented a plan into the Congressional Record. The plan distilled down into three basic parts: to help children develop a vision of their own successful future, to provide mentoring to offer children a guiding set of moral values, and to offer the academic assistance needed to achieve their goals. The result was the U.S. Dream Academy.
Phipps founded and became president of the U.S. Dream Academy in 1998. The program targeted at risk children between ages 7 and 11 to offer on-line academic tutoring in math, spelling, and other core subjects. The age range was selected as the period between which at-risk children typically begin to fall behind in school. The on-line tutoring offers children all the tools they need to understand fundamental learning objectives. Phipps determined that when children get bad grades they often fail to receive help in understanding how to do better. The U.S. Dream Academy would be that help. Moreover, Phipps emphasized the vision and values component of the Academy. "Children who go on to be successful usually, we don't know why, seem to build successful lives on the foundation of a vision and of a family," Phipps said at the Truancy Prevention conference. "You first have to increase the density of caring, loving adults in their life orbit. There simply is no substitute for that," Phipps told Stephen Goode of Insight on the News. For the U.S. Dream Academy the mentors make "the biggest difference," according to Phipps. As he established new centers throughout the country, Phipps told Goode that "it's the quality of the people to mentor the kids about whom we shall be the most diligent."
"We at the Dream Academy believe that a child with a dream is a child with a future. I will work and spend the rest of my life to battle with forces that seek to crush the dreams of our children," Phipps said at the Truancy Prevention conference. His efforts through the U.S. Dream Academy proved to be effective, and impressed many. Addressing Academy students in Washington, D.C., in 2000, President Bill Clinton said "The U.S. Dream Academy is not just another feel good program. School attendance and grades are on the rise, and kids are learning that through education, their dreams are attainable. This program works!" as quoted in the news archives on the U.S. Dream Academy Web site. The Academy partnered with community centers, churches, and faith-based organizations and by 2007 had opened sites in Atlanta, Georgia; Baltimore, Maryland; East Orange, New Jersey; Houston, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; Orlando, Florida; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Washington, D.C. The Academy received donations, sponsorships, and government aid in the millions of dollars. The largest single contribution came in 2005, when Oprah Winfrey wrote a check of $1 million to the Academy. Under Phipps' leadership the Academy continues to grow.
Growth of the Academy did not preclude Phipps from pursuing the other aspects of his career. Though he resigned from his position as associate world director of the Church's Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department in 1998, Phipps remained a pulpit pastor. After years in Washington, D.C., he was serving as pastor at the Palm Bay Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Florida, by 2007. He continued to release albums of inspirational music and to sing across the globe. He had also founded the Songs of Freedom Publishing Company and Coral Records Recording Company, and had become director of the World of Praise television ministries. No matter his venture, Phipps remained focused on his commitment to serve.
(With Goldie M. Down) The Power of a Dream: The Inspiring Story of a Young Man's Audacious Faith, Zondervan, 1995.
Lord, You Are My Music, Songs of Freedom Publishing, 1984.
I Choose You Again, Songs of Freedom Publishing, 1984.
I Give You My Life, Songs of Freedom Publishing, 1984.
The Great Controversy, Songs of Freedom Publishing, 1985.
We Are One, Songs of Freedom Publishing, 1985.
It's Christmas Time, Songs of Freedom Publishing, 1986.
Wintley Phipps, Songs of Freedom Publishing, 1987.
A Love Like This, A&M, 1988.
The Sun Will Shine Again, Word, 1990.
The Power of a Dream, Coral, 1995.
Favorite Hymns, Coral, 1996.
Favorite Spirituals, Songs of Freedom Publishing, 1996.
Saviour: The Story of God's Passion For His People, Songs of Freedom Publishing, 1996.
Songs of Christmas, Coral, 2000.
Wintley Phipps Live!, Coral, 2000.
Heal Our Land, Coral, 2001.
Out of the Night, 2001.
Favorite Hymns of Billy Graham, CNI, 2005.
No Need to Fear, Discovery House, 2006.
Daily Press (Victorville, CA), January 15, 2007.
Editor & Publisher, May 4, 1991, p. 20.
Insight on the News, June 18, 2001, p. 36.
Michigan Chronicle, March 6, 1996, p. A7.
O, The Oprah Magazine, May 2005, p. S3.
"Faces of Mentoring: Wintley Phipps," Mentor, www.mentoring.org/leaders/faces_of_mentoring/win-tley_phipps.php (January 31, 2007).
"Helping America's Children At Risk—By Wintley Phipps (Extension of Remarks—August 01, 1997)," Library of Congress, THOMAS, Congressional Record, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?r105:4:./temp/∼r105IbflsD:e0: (January 31, 2007).
"In the Spotlight: Wintley Phipps, Man on a Mission," Adventist Review, www.adventistreview.org/2001-1536/story5.html (January 30, 2007).
"New Archives: President Clinton Says 'This Program Works!'," U.S. Dream Academy, www.usdreamacademy.com/usdreamnewsarchives17.html (February 2, 2007).
Palm Bay Seventh-Day Adventist Church, www.pbaysda.org (January 31, 2007).
"Remarks Delivered by Wintley Phipps at National Truancy Prevention Conference," Truancy Prevention, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/truancy/pdf/phipps.pdf (January 31, 2007).
U.S. Dream Academy Inc., www.usdreamacademy.org/usdreamhome.html (January 30, 2007).
"U.S. Dream Academy Use Your Life Award," Oprah.com, www.oprah.com/uyl/angel/uyl_angel_20010611.jhtml (January 31, 2007).
"World-Renowned Vocal Artist to be Presented in Concert April 8," Today News, Loma Linda University, www.llu.edu/news/today/today_story.php?id=416 (January 31, 2007).
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