“Hope After Project—Nationwide”
Robert M. Gilmore Sr. doesn’t have a church where he preaches to a congregation. He doesn’t proselytize. He doesn’t consider himself a pastor, but more a social scientist.
As founder and president of Real Urban Ministry in Houston’s Third Ward, Gilmore, 57, provides training programs, technical assistance, workshops and seminars to eliminate prejudice and discrimination — and to arm people in the black community and others in need with tools for success.
Gilmore is particularly passionate about helping military veterans, educating others about mental illness — a problem he says the community has ignored — and helping drug addicts and alcoholics recover.
“Ministry means service,” Gilmore said. “I don’t use proselytizing as a way of having someone believe what I believe.
photograph | Nick de la Torre Chronicle
Real Urban Ministry’s Robert M. Gilmore Sr., with his wife, Jacqueline Davis-Gilmore, is about to launch a project to help needy veterans and people with drug problems. “I realize as we go into this next decade that I cannot waste any time,” he says.
“I don’t pastor. Because I came from the ‘hood, people call me ‘brother.’ Because I was a veteran, people call me ‘sergeant.’ Since I was called into the ministry in 1979, they call me ‘reverend’ — and my academic credentials, ‘doctor.’ So I’m really called brother, sergeant, reverend, doctor,” he said with laugh.
Gilmore, who holds a doctorate in education, is known for helping the down and out, no matter what their problems may be, and he is often in demand, said friend and colleague Marilyn Hamilton, a licensed chemical dependency counselor in Houston who used to be a fellow professor of Gilmore’s. He has helped people evicted from their homes, people in jail who need an attorney, grieving families whose children have been killed, teens in street gangs and people who wanted a college education who didn’t know where to start, she said.
“He is a trailblazer — he helps everybody, it doesn’t matter who they are,” Hamilton said. “He extends himself beyond the call of duty as a human being, counselor, professor, minister … and the majority of it is without a fee.”
Gilmore can sometimes be a controversial figure as well, earlier this year calling Mayor Bill White “pretty insensitive” for refusing to appoint a panel or task force to examine a startling jump in homicides committed by young black men in Houston.
Gilmore and other black preachers also went on the offensive during Houston Mayor-elect Annise Parker’s recent campaign, blasting the Houston Chronicle’s endorsement of her because she is openly gay and because he felt the endorsement divided the community. He called for a boycott of the Chronicle and all other publications owned by the Hearst Corp., saying, “They gave us no other choice but to stand up as Christians.”
He later called off the boycott and now says Parker’s victory puts Houston in the spotlight as a diverse and tolerant community.
“This gives us a great opportunity,” he said of her election. “Regardless of everybody’s feelings, just get over it and move on. I think everybody in town should be amenable to the commander in chief — and she is now the commander in chief.”
Gilmore, an Air Force veteran who grew up in the Third Ward and graduated from Jack Yates High School in 1970, overcame drug addiction and two suicide attempts as a young man to focus on a better future. He suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after his military service in the Vietnam War, but he later became a nationally licensed professional counselor and a licensed chemical dependency counselor. He holds five degrees, from Texas Southern University, the University of Houston and the Houston Graduate School of Theology.
He helped launched TSU’s radio station, KTSU-FM (90.9), in 1980, but retired from active radio broadcasting in 1985.
The minister, who is married to professor Jacqueline Davis-Gilmore, bursts with energy and can rattle off statistics faster than a person can write them down.
“I realize as we go into this next decade that I cannot waste any time,” Gilmore said. “I guess you could say Real Urban Ministry has come of age after 20 years. It’s not an organization to make money, to have 1,500 buildings.”
Last month, Gilmore launched what he calls the “Hope After Project,” during which he will give away 1 million free copies of a self-published book containing his life story and will record podcasts that veterans, addicts and others in need can access on the Web.
Next month he also plans to visit Brazil, where he and other ministers will form a plan to help fight that country’s large drug problem, he said.
Impetus to study
Gilmore said he began to study mental illness because of his late mother’s bipolar disorder, which affected him profoundly as a teenager. Two and a half years ago, he began working on ministering to veterans.
“It really made me understand the magnitude of the problems that veterans were going to face in the new war that we were involved in — which everybody in the country knows now is way beyond anything we had ever expected,” Gilmore said.
Researchers, he added, found that veterans who served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Operation Desert Storm suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder more than any other group. Vietnam veterans have suffered in their own way, but no less profoundly.
“National research shows one-third of all homeless people are Vietnam-era veterans,” Gilmore said. “That was the group that was lost.”
Houston’s drug problem has only become more entrenched and grown wider tentacles than when Gilmore ran the streets as a young addict 40 years ago, he said. Mental illness often coexists with addiction, he said.
“The reality of mental illness, it is not going away,” Gilmore said. “If I don’t do anything else in the course of this time period, I want them to realize they need to have programs in place for the next generation of people affected.”
Gilmore said his blueprint for urban ministry — which he wrote as his thesis when he obtained his master of divinity degree from the Houston Graduate School of Theology — can work in any community, any nation.
He is encouraged by new state legislation, signed by Gov. Rick Perry, that will allow a more cohesive partnership between faith-based organizations and state government agencies.
State government “recognizes that we do not have enough social service agencies,” Gilmore said. “We have, in Houston, churches that have multimillion-dollar budgets, pastors that are pastoring five churches. What we’re saying is, ‘In addition to that effort, we want you to be more cooperative in the problems that are facing our community.’”
By PEGGY O’HARE