Born on February 13, 1944, in Greenwood, Mississippi, Roland Gordon was raised in Gary, Indiana, where he was the star player and captain of Gary Roosevelt High School basketball team. In 1967 he went on to Baldwin Wallace College where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in education with a minor in business. Moving to Los Angeles in 1972, Gordon visited a friend who was a local producer. He complimented Gordon on his poetry leading to their collaboration for two musicals: The Winds of Change and Revelations from the Hip Bible. He also published a book called A Message To The World. Inspired by his friend in the production world, Gordon attended an acting school teaching him the importance of composure. Soon after, he opened a creative gift shop called Roland Gordon’s Creation. Here he sold original greeting cards, posters, and crafts all made by hand from various different artists that he knew in the area. Sadly, one day someone robbed him of everything he had. Looking to the Lord for answers and aid, he began reading scripture.
In 1978, Gordon began his career pastoring at Ingleside Presbyterian Church, and he enrolled in the San Francisco Theological Seminary. In the beginning, the church had only four members, but Reverend Gordon saw potential in the building and felt as though a higher power was calling him to the church. At the church, he organized a basketball program for the boys in the community—the Ingleside Church Basketball League. The league was a way for boys to develop in a positive and healthy environment that promoted an importance on education and prayer at the same time.
Gordon said: “I pretty much opened the doors of that gymnasium and the children came to me. This is part of my strategy. And all races, too. Predominantly black, but all races would come and play. The kids want to play. That’s the bottom line. So I would form teams, and some of the kids from the community would be the coaches.”
The Ingleside Community Center separately expanded in service to the youths. Reverend Gordon completed his Master of Divinity Degree and was ordained as a full-time pastor on July 31, 1983. The church held many major community events and exposed talented individuals to the community. Rev. Gordon also got together a cooperative of non-profit organizations which presented Othello, a movie starring Ted Lange at the Kabuki Theater. Reverend Gordon was the executive producer of Enter Frederick Douglass and a narrator for the musical The Modern Mass.
On the board of the former San Francisco Council of Churches, Reverend Gordon served as Chair of the Children’s Services Committee and as two-term president of the Board of Directors. He served on the Board of Directors of the Bay Area Black United Fund and was the Founder/President of both the Thad Brown Boys Academy and Board of the Ingleside Community Center. He received the 2004 Alumni Merit Award from Baldwin Wallace College, the 2003 Distinguished Alumni Award from San Francisco Theological Seminary, and was a recipient of the Koshland Award in 1995 for outstanding community service. Later, Reverend Gordon led another project that remodeled a damaged Phelan Loop bus station which was slated to be demolished. The building was leased to the Ingleside Community Center for a business training program for young people.
By creating a mural called “The Great Cloud of Witnesses,” a collage of primarily newspaper and magazine clippings, painted murals, posters, framed prints, and objects depicting prominent African American people in history, Gordon wanted to show that the African American community was able to accomplish great things. He hoped that “people of all races (especially African American youths) will be blessed by learning the truth about the rich contributions the sons and daughters of African descent have made to civilization and most especially to our country.” Both the Ingleside Church and the mural were added to San Francisco’s Article 10 list of historic properties on December 10, 2016. They are both designated as historic landmarks.
Reverend Gordon’s concerns also revolve around gentrification in the area. Community members have decreased from 500 to 75 in 2014. As churches in the area see reductions in membership, home prices keep rising and the African American population continues to fall.
Rev. Gordon believes, however, that the people living in San Francisco can work together and get along. Roland hopes to accomplish this vision where people, especially children, repeat this affirmation called the San Francisco World Peace Affirmation, which he believes can be an effective way of keeping a peaceful mind in times of violence. Come what may, Reverend Gordon will continue to spread his message of peace.
— Emmit Parubrub and Althea Pyle
Carruthers, Will. “Deserved Recognition.” Ingleside-Excelsior Light. Dec–Jan 2016–2017: 1+.
Gordon, Roland. “An Interview with Reverend Roland Gordon.” Personal interview with Emmit Parabrub. 4 Dec 2016.
“Great Cloud of Witnesses: An Icon of African American Muralism in Ingleside.” Heritage News. Summer 2015: 6–7.
Mullane, Nancy. “Church Copes with Black Flight from San Francisco.” NPR. 24 Jun 2007.
Mullaney, Alexander. “Walking with Reverend Roland Gordon.” Ingleside-Excelsior Light. 8 Jan 2015.
“Rev. Roland Gordon.” Ingleside Presbyterian Church.
“Rev. Roland Gordon.” Western Neighborhoods Project—San Francisco History. 2016.