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4,000 gather to celebrate life of Apostolic's Bishop Brazier

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Michelle Obama, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Susan Sher, Mrs. Obama's chief of staff, are among the 4,000 mourners at Bishop Arthur M. Brazier's funeral Friday.


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Filling the South Side megachurch he built on the edge of his beloved Woodlawn to capacity, thousands of mourners, from the powerful to the destitute, turned out Friday to celebrate the life of Bishop Arthur M. Brazier.

"My father, without being or appearing bragadocious, was a great man," said his son, the Rev. Byron T. Brazier, to whom Bishop Brazier passed the mantle of pastor of the famous Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester, two years ago.

And over the course of two hours, it was clear at the funeral service that seemed befitting of a head of state -- first lady Michelle Obama sat in the second row before the casket -- that Brazier's son had no need to brag.

Any praise he heaped upon his father was more than echoed by the words of dignitaries from President Obama, who heaped accolades in a video tribute; to Obama's senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who addressed mourners about the preacher, activist and community developer she called "my friend."

"The first lady is here today. Why- Because she loved him, and he touched her heart so deeply as he did so many others," Jarrett said of Bishop Brazier, who died of prostate cancer on Oct. 22 at age 89. "He was a great man, a good man."

More than 4,000 mourners filled the sanctuary of Apostolic to say goodbye to the man who took over a small indebted church of 100 members at 63rd and Kimbark in 1960 and grew it into a 22,000-member house of worship on a mortgage-free, 12-acre campus over the course of 48 years. Thousands more reportedly filled two overflow rooms of the expansive facility.

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Roland Burris, Gov. Quinn and Mayor Daley, trumpeted the achievements of the man who recognized early on a need to be actively involved in the city's civic life, starting his community work under the tutelage of famed community organizer Saul Alinsky, and founding The Woodlawn Organization in 1961.

"On behalf of the Daley family and all of the citizens of Chicago, I extend my condolences," said an emotional Daley.

"He was a man who never knew an obstacle or barrier in his life. He always knew he could get around it," said Daley. "He was a counselor and adviser to me. I cannot say goodbye to him. He is still with me, in my mind, in my heart, in my soul."

Brazier secured his place in history, the political leaders said, by helping to bring the Rev. Martin Luther King to Chicago in 1966 to protest against housing and education segregation; by teaching community development to groups across the country during the many years he worked for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Community Change, and by helping transform the East Woodlawn and North Kenwood-Oakland areas as founder of the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corp. and Fund for Community Redevelopment and Revitalization.

"He built the longest-standing political organization in the country," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said of TWO.

In so doing, Brazier "charted a course from Woodlawn to the White House, from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama," Jackson said.

Jackson was joined by two other speakers, the Rev. Leon Finney, whom Brazier recruited to work at and eventually take over TWO, and the U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, also a minister, in commending Brazier's ability to walk the preacher/activist line.

But in the end, the man who wielded enough political clout to tear down the 63rd Street Elevated and redraw the landscape of one ghetto community was a preacher who loved Jesus and the downtrodden, whether it be the poor in his community, or the children his church fed and clothed in Africa, his friends said.

" 'Let's open the book.' That was his favorite statement," said the Rev. Clay Evans, pastor of another famed South Side church, Fellowship Baptist. "He was one of the greatest souls that I have ever witnessed in my life. I felt comfortable if Bishop Arthur Brazier endorsed somebody or approved somebody, whether it was local or national. Him and [the late] Rev. Claude Wyatt. The three of us thought alike. That was my friend."

Evans' friend put together his own funeral service, from speakers to songs, and even wrote a farewell to his flock on his deathbed, that said, "I believe I have fought a good fight. I am ready to see my Lord and Savior face to face. I love you without measure -- and I know that I will see you again."

"The man was a godly man," said Bishop Horace Smith of Apostolic Faith Church, Brazier's good friend, in the ending eulogy. "We knew him as a great statesman, a civic leader, a humanitarian and a visionary, and many of us wondered how did he do it- I'll tell you how. This power that we saw was not of him, but of his God."

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