Sixty years is a long time to do anything, but the Rev. Dr. Joseph Benjamin Hardwick, who is marking his sixth decade of ministry, has no plans to stop.
“As the song says, ‘I’m not tired yet,’” said the renowned minister, who will observe his 60th year as pastor of Praises of Zion Baptist Church on Sunday, October 4, in the legendary edifice he built located at 8222 S. San Pedro Street in Los Angeles.
A host of faith leaders are scheduled to participate in the celebration that starts with the 6:45 a.m., worship where Pastor Fredrick Howard of Southside Bethel Baptist Church will bring the message. The culmination service at 3:30 p.m., will feature Pastor Virgil Jones of Calvary Baptist Church, Pastor Marcus Murchison of Tree of Life Baptist Church and the members of Union Missionary Baptist Church.
It is not surprising that so many will pay tribute to Hardwick, who has a long history of serving people, particularly the residents of the east side of South Los Angeles. In fact, his love for others has influenced his actions throughout his extensive career.
“I have a deep yearning to help people. I think that’s part of my divine calling is to reach out and help the less fortunate. That’s the thing that challenges me each and every day,” noted Hardwick, who has implemented scores of ministries and outreach programs to aid his congregation and the surrounding community.
The church’s nonprofit arm, the Personal Involvement Center, employs 114 people and offers several classes ranging from parenting to mental health awareness to anger management. Also, the nonprofit recently purchased a gas station and car wash that provides jobs to formerly incarcerated people.
“People need a second chance, so we bought the service station to help young people who have been released from incarceration and can’t get a job. We have seven or eight people working there. It’s sponsored by members who are dedicated to helping young people,” said the pastor.
In addition, Hardwick serves as president of the Western Baptist State Convention of California (WBSC). In this capacity, he implemented the Chaplain Prison Ministry, countless food drives and a scholarship program for youth.
“WBSC is 125 years old, the oldest convention in the state. I have served as president for 15 years and we have sent so many young people to college. This past year, we gave 10 scholarships to youth and we’re endeavoring to give out more. I’m determined. Young people must attend college and they simply must get a degree in a certain field,” said Hardwick.
Looking back over his career, Hardwick realized his calling to help others developed during the Watts Riots when Praises of Zion, then located on 84th Street and Avalon Boulevard, played a pivotal role.
“In 1965, this church was the headquarters for the Watts Riot. The governor and the National Guard operated out of this church. That was the beginning of my total commitment to helping the less fortunate and this church has been doing that for 60 years,” recalled Hardwick.
In recognition of his many achievements, he has received hundreds of awards from city, state and federal officials as well as ecumenical and community organizations.
“God has been good to me. We have had a number of dignitaries visit our church including the vice-president and Dr. Martin Luther King when we were on Avalon. I have been welcomed to the White House and met every president,” said Hardwick.
“But the most memorable moment in my life is being able to pastor God’s saints. To sum it all up, God looked on me and made me a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.”