Originally Posted: December 2018 issue
The Rev. Dr. Michael W. Waters earned a B.A. in political science and religious studies from SMU in 2002, followed by two degrees from Perkins School of Theology: the M. Div. cum laude and Doctor of Ministry with honors.
On September 12, six days after 26-year-old Botham Jean was shot and killed in his apartment by an off-duty Dallas police officer named Amber Guyger, a press conference was held in the Flag Room at Dallas City Hall by citizens demanding the creation of an office of police oversight. They wanted an independent review board armed with subpoena power and the authority to investigate police shootings. What they really wanted was justice. This, at least, would be a step in that direction.
The press conference was called by the young minister Dominique Alexander and his Next Generation Action Network, the group responsible for many of the protests around the city in the days after Jean died. It was a Wednesday, so when they were done in the Flag Room, Alexander and his coterie hurried down the hall to the regularly scheduled meeting of the Dallas City Council, already in progress, to make their demand in person.
The Rev. Dr. Michael Waters wasn’t scheduled to be involved, not in the press conference nor the march to Council chambers that followed. The 39-year-old senior pastor at Joy Tabernacle A.M.E. Church in South Dallas came to City Hall intending only to offer his support and to observe, not to participate. He was there to be a witness. But if a basketball player walks into a gym, eventually he is going to get up a few shots. And so once his attendance was noted—the tall and stylish preacher with a penchant for hats and bow ties rarely goes unnoticed—he was invited to stand with Alexander and his group and say a few words.
Still, he planned to leave after the press conference had concluded. He was late for another appointment. But before he could go, someone asked if he was coming to the Council meeting. He decided, OK, he would pop in just for a moment.
“Once in there, as they say in church, the spirit took over,” Waters says later.
The meeting spun out of control. As the protesters shouted at the Council from their seats in the audience, Mayor Mike Rawlings called for a recess and left the chambers. Amid the chaos, the spirit had brought Waters to the lectern in front of the Council horseshoe where he waited, patiently standing with his hands clasped behind his back, his straw hat resting on its crown on the table in front of him.
Finally, Councilman Philip Kingston, along with other council members, encouraged the pastor to address the Council, even though the meeting remained in recess and the microphones had been turned off. None of that was a problem for Waters. The recess actually worked in his favor. It meant there would be no time limit on his remarks. He could say anything. He could say everything. So he did.
“Please no longer tell us on your memos that this is a diverse, vibrant, and progressive city. Not when poor are dying across our city. Not when I have to tell my son I’ve got to go speak and the first thing he asks me as I’m on my way out the door is, ‘Who died now?’ ”
Speaking extemporaneously, without even a few scribbled notes to rely on, Waters dug for roots instead of chopping at branches, putting the death of Jean and the need for police reform in a much larger context, going back months, then years, then decades, all the way back to the Confederate War Memorial monument a few hundred yards away, dedicated in 1896. It was a crash course on race relations in Dallas over the past century, delivered with the power and passion of a Sunday sermon. READ MORE