Dr. Ellis Wilkins, Pastor of Damascus Missionary Baptist Church, celebrates 90th birthday with surprise drive-by

June 18, 2020

Photos by Yvonne Kemp

On June 2, 1930 in a shanty house in Wesson, Arkansas, little did John and Bessie Wilkins know that they were there!

“I HAD ENOUGH HEARTACHE AND ENOUGH HEADACHE I’VE HAD SO MANY UPS AND DOWNS DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH MORE I CAN TAKE .. SEE I DECIDED THAT I CRIED MY LAST TEAR YESTERDAY.” Gospel artists Erica and Tina Campbell did a magnificent job singing what has become an urban anthem, speaking to the hurts and harm created by life’s bumps and bruises.

The message that was intended was I am tired, weak, churched out, and friends few. However, I have reached a pivotal point in my personal growth where I have realized and recognized that I can do bad all by myself. All of the crying I did is complete and I am moving on from here.

Photos by Yvonne Kemp

An experience of sudden and striking realization, generally the term is used to describe breakthrough scientific, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. It is an Epiphany!

Did they know they had reached a pivotal point in history in giving birth to a great man who would touch and change so many lives?

Known as Junior and Dumas to his close family and friends, Ellis Wilkins was always recognized as a bridge building leader who would achieve great things. Even before serving as an infantry soldier in the Korean conflict, then returning to the mean streets of Chicago during a time when America was on the verge of becoming an adult, Ellis had an innate gift to “tickle the ivory.” Little did he know that playing the piano would be the vehicle God would use to anchor him to his destiny. While initially it didn’t appear to be, returning to Arkansas was a pivotal turning point that would catapult him into the annals of history! As a young church musician who never needed a lesson, he noticed a pretty alto singing and ran around for a week after going door to door looking for, and finally found, Mary Louise (Madea) who became his “girlfriend” in marriage for the next 65 years and 9 months, suddenly passing away this past September.

Photos by Yvonne Kemp

His extensive ministerial career led him from coast to coast and allowed him to serve as pastor of three congregations, moderator, and national speaker/ musician at the Baptist convention. He was also a trustee at one of the nation’s HBCU’s, Arkansas Baptist College, and held local, state and national vice and president offices. The countless baptisms, marriages, baby dedications, graduations, jail visits, and church installations pale in comparison to the impact and accomplishments that Pastor Wilkins made as Dada, Paw-Paw, and Bubba! This biological father of five, and spiritual or surrogate father for more than we can number, or he could remember, has a rich heritage evident in his older sister Myrtle who, at the writing of this piece, is nearing 100 years old.

The Rev. Dr. Ellis Wilkins will always be known as being the life of the barbershop, dinner party, family gathering, or every church service he attended. He always makes others smile and laugh with his comedic humor, and will leave a legacy to be honored and sought to achieve. Happy 90th birthday Rev. Dr. Ellis Wilkins! We truly love and honor you!! You are blessed and highly favored!