When Eddie Wilson, M.T.S. ’04, was working on his Master of Theological Studies degree at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, he decided he might take a preaching class even though it wasn’t part of his required curriculum.
“I’d been in lay leadership many years, and I just wanted to try it,” Wilson said.
Wilson jokes that he could see quickly that the class wasn’t going well for him. But he thought God might have him in the class for a different reason—to get to know one of his classmates, Reginald Calvert, M.Div. ’05, D.Min. ’14.
Wilson said Calvert was a phenomenal preacher and that he felt drawn to become his friend and encourage him in ministry.
At the same time, Wilson—who is white—was taking a racial reconciliation class, and it “started to get into my heart,” he said. His friendship with Calvert, who is Black, only grew his passion for seeing reconciliation happen and seeing more gifted preachers sent into ministry.
This desire planted the seeds for something that was 20 years in the making—the new Dr. Reginald Calvert Racial Reconciliation Annual and Endowed Scholarship for Preaching.
"Wilson was interested in starting a scholarship in Reginald’s honor and doing it in a way that would help the school recognize Reginald for the contributions he had made while he was here as a student but also foster racial reconciliation in the days to come,” said Gary Fenton, senior advancement officer for Beeson Divinity School and Samford.
Fenton and Wilson revealed the plans to Calvert recently over lunch.
“Of course, it totally caught me by surprise,” said Calvert, who has served as pastor of New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Bessemer since 1999. “It’s exceedingly humbling to have this honor bestowed upon me and the purpose it would serve is even more humbling that it would assist future students with their theological education.”
Wilson said helping future students is the fire that fueled his idea. While working on his Master of Theological Studies, he felt called to make divinity school more affordable for ministers. After he graduated, he and his family moved to New York, where he was able to harness that idea and help students with the cost of attending a different seminary.
When they moved back to Birmingham a few years ago, he brought the idea back with him. Then in February, he heard Calvert would be preaching in chapel, and he wanted to attend, but his schedule wouldn’t allow it.
“So, I found him on YouTube afterward and was just blown away,” Wilson said. “Tears came to my eyes, and I thought, ‘We’ve got to do something, and we’ve got to name it after Reggie. We’ve got to find more Reggies.’”
In addition to serving as New Jerusalem's pastor, Calvert has been actively involved in community ministry and theological training since graduating from Beeson. He started an organization called Seek the Peace, which holds rallies against violence and helps the community through outreach efforts like bag giveaways with school supplies and gift cards.
In 2009, Beeson named Calvert as the Master of Divinity Alumnus of the Year, and he currently serves as the school’s facilitator for the Thriving Pastors Initiative for African American Clergy.
He also teaches at Huntsville Bible College and Birmingham Easonian Baptist Bible College.
Calvert said when it comes to racial reconciliation, what has always been important to him is to “bring people together to learn about one another and to understand the different cultures.”
“That’s what I hope and pray for, that we will learn from one another, then become comfortable in our own skin,” Calvert said. “But mainly I pray we will prepare students to preach in various cultures and not just in one setting. As Jesus is sending us, it’s to Jerusalem and the uttermost parts of the world. My prayer is that the scholarship would provide a type of fulfillment of the Great Commission.”
To give to the Dr. Reginald Calvert Racial Reconciliation Annual and Endowed Scholarship for Preaching, send gifts to Beeson’s advancement office, 800 Lakeshore Drive, Birmingham, AL 35229 or give online.