Ones To Watch: Bridging The Past And Future Of Civil Rights

In March 1965 in Selma, Alabama, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders preached at Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church and launched marches across the nearby Edmund Pettus Bridge to Montgomery. Such actions caught the world’s attention and helped to inspire passage of the Voting Rights Act later that summer.

Forty-one years later from the same pulpit, the Rev. Michael Williams Waters (’02, ’06) delivered a sermon, “One More Bridge to Cross,” to SMU students, faculty and staff during the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, a spring break trip to historic sites in the South.


Michael and Yulise Waters with their son, Michael Jeremiah, 1, at Greater Garth Chapel A.M.E. Church in Dallas.

During that moment in 2006, Waters said, “Although we have made many strides out of bondage – like the children of Israel who crossed the Red Sea out of Egypt – we still haven’t reached the Promised Land. Poverty, homelessness, limited access to health care, school zones like war zones – these are all signs we have one more bridge to cross to achieve change.”

Since delivering the sermon, Waters and his wife, Dedman School of Law student Yulise Reaves Waters (’02), have worked together to help others cross this bridge to social change, including at Greater Garth Chapel A.M.E. Church in Dallas, where they have served as senior pastor and first lady since November 2006. Michael Waters previously was senior pastor at Tyree Chapel A.M.E. Church in Blooming Grove, Texas, and at Greater Allen Temple A.M.E. Church in Grand Prairie, Texas.

“Greater Garth is in the heart of an impoverished area that suffers from crime, addictions, HIV/AIDS and failing schools,” says Michael, a fifth-generation ordained minister and native Texan. “Our prayer is that we can restore hope and empower this community to bring about needed change.”

Waters and his wife, who met as first-year students in SMU’s Voices of Inspiration Gospel Choir, have led the congregation in developing new programs such as tutoring for youths, young adult and senior groups, and a partnership with Child Protective Services to help young parents resolve issues, along with the church’s ministry to feed and clothe the homeless. They have seen membership grow from fewer than 140 to nearly 200 in the past year and say their congregants are increasingly drawn to service, in addition to worship and Bible study.

“We’re creating new opportunities for ministry and fellowship,” Waters says. “We want to serve as a lighthouse to the community beyond these walls and show a better way.”

The pastor holds a dual appointment in the African Methodist Episcopal Church
as dean of chapel at Paul Quinn College in Dallas, where he also teaches as adjunct professor in the Department of Religion.

“I have the unique opportunity to address the entire campus in weekly chapel services, and in my teaching I hope to uplift students to address the challenges facing our world,” says Waters, who earned his Master of Divinity with certificates in African American Church Studies and Urban Ministry at Perkins. A recipient of the Prothro Promise for Ministry Scholarship, Waters was the first student elected to two consecutive terms as Perkins student body president.

“Although we have made many strides out of bondage – like the children of Israel who crossed the Red Sea out of Egypt – we still haven’t reached the Promised Land. Poverty, homelessness, limited access to health care, school zones like war zones – these are all signs we have one more bridge to cross to achieve change.”
– The Rev. Michael Williams Waters (’02, ’06)

As an undergraduate, Waters, whose parents also attended SMU, earned degrees in political science and religious studies with a minor in history. He served as student body vice president and Student Senate chair, and among his honors was SMU’s highest, the “M” Award, for service to the University.

In addition to her work at Greater Garth, where she coordinates the Sisterhood
Ministry and sings in several choirs, Yulise Reaves Waters is in her third term as president of the North Texas Annual Conference Clergy Spouses. Along with her husband, she has served on the SMU Alumni Board and held leadership roles in the African American Alumni Associates. A Dallas native, she earned her Juris Doctor from SMU in May and plans to pursue a career in family law. She has worked as a clerk for Dallas attorney Gay G. Cox (’78) and is a member of the family law organization Annette Stewart Inn of Court.

“Family is the core of society, and I feel called to help create a framework there so problems can be solved,” says Yulise, who earned degrees in business administration, Spanish and English. She received an upper-class President’s Scholarship and SMU’s Outstanding Senior Woman Award.

Yulise also acted as chaperone during the three Civil Rights Pilgrimages that her husband directed from 2005 to 2007. Michael Waters created the program while a student at Perkins School of Theology and working as chaplain’s assistant in SMU’s Office of the Chaplain during 2004, the 40th anniversary of Freedom Summer. “This history was fading for my generation, which takes for granted the right to eat at any restaurant, sit in an integrated classroom and walk into a voting booth,” he says.

Associate History Professor Glenn Linden teamed up with Waters to develop a
curriculum to accompany the pilgrimage, now offered as a joint history-political science course, “Civil Rights: Our Unfinished Revolution.” The trip makes classroom lessons real for students, Waters says, by introducing them to people and places that played an important role during the civil rights movement. “We reconnect with the past so it can inform our future.”

Waters adds that the experience became even more meaningful for him with the birth of his son, Michael Jeremiah, in 2006. “Each generation has its own bridge to cross, on the shoulders of those who came before.”


  1. Avatar
    Predicaciones July 15, 2009

    Very good post on doing good work.

  2. Avatar
    Adrian and Alecia Rodriguez May 27, 2008

    We are elated that your hard work and dedication has glorified God. The ministry God has given the three of you continues to transform the lives of His people. Pastor and Yulise, you’ve challenged and encouraged us in our own journey of faith. Many blessings in Christ Jesus. We love you all and thank you. Adrian & Alecia

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    Ed Gray, Class of 89 May 25, 2008

    I am proud of the Waters Family and their service to the community. Rev. Waters serves as a much needed bridge from the SMU community to the Dallas African-American communty.

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    Rev. Lucretia Cooksy May 21, 2008

    I am very proud to have known Rev. Michael and Yulise Waters for some time now. They were outstanding students and are now outstanding leaders in the community. It’s been a blessing to witness their journey and I am sure the best is yet to come!

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    Byron Sanders May 21, 2008

    I’d forgotten just how much God has blessed you all to accomplish in such a short time. I am constantly reminded of what you said to Celeste and I after we said the vows: do not be complacent. Yours and Yulise’s example is a living testament to you practicing what you preach. We love you all very much.

    -Byron Sanders

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    Gay G. Cox May 21, 2008

    I am so proud of my name being associated with Yulise Waters and her husband, Rev. Waters. The work they do is phenomenal and they have amazing hearts. They will change the world for the better. As an SMU law school alumna, it is inspiring to see what a difference its graduates are making. Peace, Gay

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    Glenn Sowells May 21, 2008

    My wife and I feel so blessed that the lord sent you and your family to our little church in the sunny south. You do indeed have a strong and radical message that touches the soul. Never change!

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    Jimmy Tran May 21, 2008

    Mr. & Mrs. Waters — you make us proud! Keep on keeping on, we look forward to hearing more great things in the coming years :-).

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    Jessie R. Smith May 20, 2008

    Article on Rev.Michael Waters, and First Lady Yulise…was very inspiring.
    Be Blessed
    Keep Our History Alive, Rev. Waters.

    From Member of St. Paul AME..South Dallas.

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