Pastor Jerome Smith, Sr., dies of COVID-19 at 49

May 27, 2021

Pastor Jerome Smith, Sr.

As co-founder of the Joseph Project, Pastor Jerome Smith, Sr., helped others find good jobs, transportation and training. Pastor Smith, 49, died April 27, from complications of COVID-19.

“Milwaukee and all of Wisconsin lost a great man today as Pastor Jerome Smith, Sr., was called home to be with our Lord Jesus Christ,” the Republican Party of Wisconsin said in a statement on the passing of Pastor Smith.

“Pastor Smith worked with everyone to improve the lives of people not only in the Milwaukee area, but throughout the state of Wisconsin. Pastor Smith was the co-founder of the Joseph Project and drew attention to how lives can be turned around through basic values such as love, respect and hard work.”

Pastor Smith co-founded the Joseph Project in 2015, with Orlando Owens, a Milwaukee minister and aide to Sen. Ron Johnson. Pastors Smith and Owens noticed many job openings in Sheboygan and many unemployed people in Milwaukee. With assistance from Sen. Johnson’s office, the two started the Joseph Project to connect unemployed people with open positions. The project also provides transportation and training to job seekers.

Pastor Smith overcame childhood poverty and a suicide attempt as a young man. Born in Chicago, he moved to Milwaukee at about age 10. He soon began working to help provide food for the family. By the time he was 21-years-old, he owned almost 100 properties, but he temporarily split up with Markeitha Smith, his high school sweetheart and future wife, and within a few years he said he “lost everything” to foreclosure and tried to kill himself, but he survived. He became involved with his church and in 2014 he and his wife, Markeitha, founded Greater Praise Church of God in Christ. The church, located at 5422 West Center Street, became the main hub for the Joseph Project.

“I admired the way Pastor Smith connected with people, supported them no matter the day or hour, and offered tough love when necessary,” Sen. Johnson said as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Despite suffering from heart disease, diabetes and the loss of vision in one eye, Pastor Smith continued helping others until he fell ill. He lived by his favorite phrase: “You don’t throw people away.”

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