The history of Bright Hope Baptist Church is a testimony to the grace and love of God demonstrated in the congregational life of His children. From generation to generation, Bright Hope has been a beacon of light and pillar of hope in North Philadelphia. Thousands of men and women have been and continue to be touched by this ministry of God.
On February 2, 1910, Reverend James H. Cammack formally organized a prayer group as a Baptist Mission in the home of Brother Joe and Sister Corona Johnson at 2435 N. Alder Street. Because the original congregation soon grew too large for the Johnson's home, they moved into a two-room house at 2446 N. Alder Street.
One year after this simple beginning, the mission organized as the Bright Hope Baptist Church on March 17, 1911. The congregation purchased and renovated two houses at 2411 and 2413 N. Alder Street. In July 1917, the new church, the "Little Church on Alder Street, as it became known to its members and neighbors, was built at that location. The great progress of the church was slowed by the untimely death of its founder and first pastor, Reverend Cammack, on November 2, 1924.
Reverend William H. Gray, Sr., a preacher from Virginia, shared the faith, vision and leadership for the church and accepted the pastorate in May of 1925. Reverend William Gray, Sr. remained as Pastor until he met with illness and passed away on June 24, 1949. Reverend Dr. and Mrs. William H. Gray, Sr. had one son. On February 5, 1950, Reverend William H. Gray, Jr., past President of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, Florida, assumed the pulpit at Bright Hope Baptist Church. This marked the beginning of a tremendous period of spiritual and physical growth for Bright Hope. On October 27, 1963, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the ground breaking ceremonies for the new $1.2 million church and youth center. On September 27, 1964, Reverend Gray, Jr. led the membership from the old church at 12th and Oxford Streets into the new and present facility at 12th Street and Cecil B. Moore, and first services were held.
During the 22 years under Dr. Gray, Jr.'s leadership, Bright Hope's reputation and influence had extended well beyond North Philadelphia. The mission and ministries of Bright Hope became known throughout the city, state, and country. Dr. and Mrs. William H. Gray, Jr. had two children, Marian and William, III. On January 26, 1972, Reverend Dr. William H. Gray, Jr. was called from labor to reward.
His son, Reverend William H. Gray, III, became the fourth pastor of this congregation. Under Reverend Gray, III's leadership, Bright Hope continued to expand its ministries and services to the membership and community. At the urging of many church members and community leaders, Reverend Gray, III became a candidate for the United States Congress. After a hard fought campaign, he was sworn in as the Congressman from the Second Congressional District in Pennsylvania on January 15, 1979.
Some 2,000 Bright Hope members, constituents and friends traveled to Washington to witness and celebrate this blessed occasion in the collective lives of both pastor and church family. Assuming this national ministry in Congress ultimately resulted in Reverend Gray, III becoming the Chairman of the influential Budget and Finance Committee and assuming the office of Rev. William H. Gray, Ill, the Majority Whip, making him the highest ranking Black governmental official in the country.
During his years in Congress, Reverend Gray, III's vision for the church continued to be realized. In 1979, Operation Lifeline was founded to address the needs of our senior citizens. On June 8, 1980, the ground breaking ceremony for the Gray Manor Senior Citizens Residence Home was held. The dedication service for the 13o unit facility was held on September 26, 1982. Gray Manor, named in honor of Reverend Gray, Jr., continues to provide a loving and caring environment for its residents.
In 1983, The Bright Hope Survival Program was established to address the increasing number of the poor and homeless within our community. The program includes a food pantry and clothing distribution. This program has played a vital role in the survival of many of its recipients. To date, Bright Hope has served more than a million meals to people in need.
Pastor Gray retired from his position as Congressman in 1991 to become President of the United Negro College Fund. In 1994, President Bill Clinton asked Pastor Gray to assume the responsibilities as his special advisor to Haiti. While Pastor Gray continued to grow as a force in international politics, the ministry of Bright Hope continued to flourish as well. Reverend William and Mrs. Andrea had three sons: William H. Gray, IV (Jennifer), Justin and Andrew. Reverend William H. Gray, III served as pastor for 35 years (1972-2007) and was recently called from labor to reward on July 1, 2013.
Continuing Bright Hope's legacy of outstanding pastoral leadership, on January 7, 2007, the members of Bright Hope called Reverend Kevin R. Johnson to serve as its fifth Senior Pastor. Dr. Kevin R. Johnson is a national leader and served seven years as the fifth Senior Pastor of the nationally renowned Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
A Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude graduate of Morehouse College, Dr. Johnson was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. and Oprah Winfrey scholarships. He continued his studies at Union Theological Seminary, where he earned a Master of Divinity degree as a Union Scholar, and received the prestigious Maxwell Fellowship, awarded to the seminarian most likely to succeed in parish ministry. Dr. Johnson earned the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree in Organizational Leadership and Transformational Learning from Columbia University.
Whether offering invocations for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, delivering sermons of inspiration and hope internationally and nationally, being arrested at New York City’s One Police Plaza for protesting the unjust NYPD killing of African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, spearheading voter rights’ initiatives in Pennsylvania, or leading the charge for educational equity for all Philadelphia public school children, Dr. Johnson is committed to fulfilling his calling as a community-focused and politically-engaged pastor called to a holistic, social gospel ministry. Within seven years of becoming the undershepherd at Bright Hope, more than 1,200 new believers have joined, several new ministries created, and countless hearts have been touched through God’s ministry.
Affectionately called “Joshua,” Dr. Johnson is an astute clergyman committed to community empowerment and economic development. Recently, under his leadership as President/CEO of Bridge of Hope Community Development Corporation, the CDC built, with The Goldenberg Group, a $100 million, 14-story student apartment tower for Temple University students directly across from the church. Dr. Johnson has promoted economic empowerment by investing and depositing millions of dollars into United Bank, a Philadelphia owned and operated African-American bank. An avid and respected writer, he is a frequent columnist for the oldest continually running African-American newspaper, The Philadelphia Tribune.
He has delivered sermons in distinguished pulpits including the largest Protestant church in the world, Yoido Full Gospel Church, Seoul, South Korea. Dr. Johnson was also the first African-American in 200-years to preach at Africa’s oldest Baptist church, Regent Road Baptist in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and later was inspired to raise funds, build, and establish a new church in West Africa—“Bright Hope Baptist Church in Moyamba, Sierra Leone.” Additionally, by invitation of the American Jewish Committee, Dr. Johnson traveled to Israel and Palestine and met government leaders to discuss the challenges that exist between the nations.
Currently, Dr. Johnson is Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees of Lincoln University, and sits on the boards of the Urban League of Philadelphia, the Forum for a Better Pennsylvania, the Mayor’s Voter Task Force, and previously served on the Obama Campaign’s National African-American Clergy Advisory Board. A recipient of numerous awards and citations, Newsweek featured Dr. Johnson as one of the “up-and-coming” national post-Civil Rights ministers, The Philadelphia Tribune identified him as a “mover-and-shaker” in the City, and Morehouse College inducted him into the prestigious Board of Preachers. He is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity (Alpha Boulé), and lifetime membership in the Morehouse College National Alumni Association.
He is blessed to share his ministry with his lovely wife, Mrs. Kimya S. P. Johnson, Esq., a labor and employment attorney at the law firm of Cozen O’Connor and a Spelman College, Columbia University, and Case Western Reserve University School of Law graduate. They are the proud parents of their son, Miles Hasani, and two daughters, Laila Rae and Lena Shani.