Family members of Dr. Billy G. Ingram paying tribute in his honor. Photo by Marty Cotwright By Cora Jackson-FossettSentinel Religion Editor
Nearly 5,000 people celebrated the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Billy Ingram on March 18 at the West Angeles Cathedral in Los Angeles. The four-hour service drew clergy, lay-persons, elected officials, and the unchurched to give a final farewell to the founder and pastor of Maranatha Community Church.Dr. Ingram, who died unexpectedly on March 8, was known as a Bible scholar, commanding preacher, and community outreach activist. His messages of spiritual empowerment were popular around the world as evidenced by the viewers from 35 states and five countries who joined the live stream of his homegoing on the internet.Rev. Dr. Melvin Wade, pastor of Mount Moriah Baptist church, officiated the service that comprised a video of Dr. Ingram's sermonettes as well as reflections and music from those intimately acquainted with him. Also, Jerome Horton, Chair of the State Board of Equalization, and his wife, Yvonne Horton, Inglewood City Clerk, read honorary resolutions from President Barack Obama and various elected officials. Among the speakers were U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters who said she often worked with Dr. Ingram on community projects and took an early morning flight to attend the service. Bishop Charles E. Blake, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, Inc., and pastor of West Angeles, commented on Dr. Ingram's passing at the age of 58. "In life we don't mind getting paid early, leaving work early or going on an early vacation. Therefore, we should look at his passing as a blessing. Pastor Billy finished his work and went to heaven early," said Bishop Blake.His wife, Solombra Ingram, said, "Sweetie, although my life won't be the same without you, you have deposited in me all I need to make it better. I can confidently say my better half is resting peacefully with the Lord."Echoing similar feelings, his sister, Stacey Ingram-Gibson, said, "You are my big brother, friend, confidant, pastor, inspiration and my everything. I can't wait to see you again!" Ingram-Gibson also shared that Dr. Ingram was tested in high school and learned that he had a genius IQ. Dr. Edward Haygood, pastor of Agape Christian Fellowship of Los Angeles, confirmed Dr. Ingram's intelligence as he told about studying with him under Dr. Butrus Abdul Malik. "Billy suggested we memorize the entire Bible and Billy mastered the challenge, but I was struggling and frustrated. Now I find out that he was a genius. I wish I had known that then," he said with a chuckle.The audience laughed as Jacob Dayan, Consul General of Israel, described his first meeting with Dr. Ingram at an event for the State of Israel. "I thought this regal man must be an Ethiopian Jew!" Dayan said he came to honor Dr. Ingram's memory because he enjoyed working with him to arrange group trips to Israel as well as coordinating many local events for the State of Israel. He added, "I also admired Dr. Ingram, who spoke fluent Hebrew and had an unquenchable thirst for a knowledge and understanding of God's purpose."Coach Jim Harrick recalled starting his basketball coaching career at Morningside High School, where Dr. Ingram was his first 'superstar' player.
In 1970, after winning city and state championship honors, Dr. Ingram earned a full basketball scholarship to the University of Oregon, but then received the call to preach. Transferring to Biola University, Dr. Ingram graduated with a bachelor's degree and eventually earned a PhD from the California School of Theology.A touching statement was read by KJLH Program Director Aundrae Russell from artist Stevie Wonder, KJLH owner, who was performing in Africa and unable to attend. Wonder collaborated with Dr. Ingram and added musical concepts to 'The Legacy,' a recording of historical poetry on the African American experience.Remarks were also given by Dr. Ingram's children and several of his 'sons and daughters in the ministry' who now lead their own churches including Pastor Julius West of the Inland Empire, Pastor Ed Chung of Houston, TX; Rev. Jerome Carter of Los Angeles, Rev. Rick Temple of Savannah, GA; and Rev. Lawrence Witherspoon of Chino Hills.Some others in attendance were Bishop T. Larry Kirkland Sr., Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, actor Flex Alexander, and entertainers Kenneth "Babyface" Edmunds, Verdine White, and Sheila E. Also, musical selections were sung by Maranatha's choir, singer Richard Robnet, Pastor Dovema Franklin, Alonzo Ballenger, and Phillip Bailey of Earth, Wind and Fire. The eulogy, delivered by Dr. Donald Cheeks, Maranatha's Pastor-at-Large, centered on Dr. Ingram's uncompromising dedication to the word of God. He said, "Pastor Billy was a man of many gifts and interest; photography, music and traveling, however the number one passion of his life was his love for God and his thirst for knowledge of God's word. A serious student of the word, he searched the scriptures daily for divine truth, so that he might reveal it with clarity to God's people."The service closed with soaring rendition of 'Going Up Yonder' by R&B songstress Shanice Wilson, a personal friend of the Ingrams.