Jefferey Kee Pushes for Reform
A pastor becomes a catalyst for change within the Columbus police department.
The Rev. Cleophus Kee, a pillar of Columbus’ Black community as pastor of Greater 12th Baptist Church, called his 5-year-old nephew Jefferey to the pulpit one day to give the congregation a word.
Jefferey Kee would continue to speak at Greater 12th throughout his childhood, his messages gaining greater depth as current events began to infuse his perspective.
Kee’s parents had moved to Columbus from Birmingham, Alabama, in search of a more equitable environment for African Americans, and Kee says his father emphasized the importance of paying attention to the news. Family conversations addressed injustice, prejudice and marginalization, as did Cleophus Kee’s civic and religious engagement.
“I always grew up with a profound understanding of differences and what it was like to deal with people who acted out their prejudice and discrimination,” Kee says.
Those early experiences shaped Kee’s path to leading New Faith Baptist Church on the Near East Side with a focus on social justice.
In 2018, Kee agreed to be a champion for a group of Black Columbus police officers alleging discrimination within the department. He’s been at the forefront of efforts for internal reform and spoken out after shootings of unarmed Black men in Columbus, saying all result from entrenched bias and discrimination in the police department.
“I learned that whatever African Americans perceived to be an atrocity or injustice on the streets, even more deplorable was what the officers experienced internally and the discrimination and racism levied against them,” Kee says.
Columbus police Lt. Melissa McFadden says the group met with other clergy members, but Kee and, later, the Rev. Tim Ahrens of First Congregational Church supported them from the start by taking their recommendations to the mayor and city leaders. Some have been implemented, although the group says much more reform is needed.
“He’s more than just talk,” says McFadden, who has written a self-published memoir about discrimination she says she faced within the police department. “Jefferey Kee was the catalyst of all the pastors we talked to, he was the one who stepped up and said, ‘We need to do this.’ He’s been there fighting ever since.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Johnson