“He’s living on through everyone whose lives he affected.” Remembering Dr. James Evans

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — On Friday, the community gathered at Rochester’s Aenon Missionary Baptist Church to say goodbye to Dr. James Evans, the first black president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. 

He died last month.  Rochester knew him as a Yale educated theologian, a respected pastor, author and civic leader.  But his three children knew him as Dad.  And that’s the man I wanted to know.  So I sat down with his daughter, Jamila Evans Rogers.  Here are her memories, in her own words.

READ MORE: First African-American President of Colgate Divinity School remembered for legacy of service

Jamila Evans Rogers: “My dad was literally my best friend. He was my hero. I think one of the best qualities he had is how down to earth and how much a people person he was.  I grew up going with him on his preaching engagements. That was my favorite thing. I was probably the only little kid who liked to go listen to him preach. But I think even as a child one of the most incredible things is watching people’s reaction to him.”

“He was genuine. He was sincere. And I think that that is somewhat of a lost quality.”

“They started out as English professors, both of my parents. Education was so huge. My brother ended up getting into Harvard. He graduated from there. He has a medical degree.  But I remember my dad taking on an extra job and extra preaching engagement and adjunct professor and those stints so he could pay that tuition and not have those debts. And those are the things that really stick with me.”

“While he was president, it’s a rigorous schedule. I mean you’re flying. It’s a lot of capital campaigns. It’s a lot of pressure. But I saw him always take it in stride. He was just a fun dad.  He wanted me to have fun.”

“His sense of humor is what I’m going to miss most. People saw him as a serious theologian. But my dad had a love of bad jokes. He had a love of humor.  He had a love of HGTV; he’ll deny it.  He was a closet soap opera watcher; he’ll deny that too.  While he was writing his books he just claimed that General Hospital was on.”

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Dr. Evans wrote countless articles and five books, some of which are used as teaching tools for other theology students.

Jamila Evans Rogers: “It’s even more powerful because he’s trained people to continue the work that can save souls that can save lives and that can affect so many people.”

“As hard as it is to lose my dad, I couldn’t ask for a better legacy.  And I feel it’s a mantel now that’s been passed onto me.  It’s been baked into me. My dad is still alive.  My dad is still here through me.”

“He’s living on through everyone whose lives he affected. He put his footprint over the whole city.”

“I mean he kicked the ceiling off, that glass ceiling at Colgate, and now they have an African-American female president, Dr. Angela Sims who is wonderful.  We’ve come so far, and he’s left such a legacy here for us to follow.  It makes me so proud.”

In fact, as president of Colgate, Dr. Evans guided the establishment of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender in Church and Society.  His daughter says he was truly inclusive, welcoming all under the tent of the faithful.  And that, perhaps, is his greatest legacy.