When most people think of community activists, they envision the person present at all the social injustice protests, bullhorn in hand, speaking truth to power. Loudly and courageously.
The ever-upbeat, and no less courageous, Ken Rodgers, proves that activists who care about and make a difference in our communities, come in all forms. Known for his cheerful nature and ability to light up any room he enters, Rodgers is one of Houston’s most formidable and respected activists not only because of his effectiveness, but also because he’s in a lot of rooms.
The Defender caught up with the busy change agent, and asked him about his many vehicles for improving life for all Houstonians, but especially those who reside in his beloved Third Ward.
DEFENDER: Can you name some of the community-serving organizations and initiatives you’re part of?
RODGERS: The Greater Third Ward Super Neighborhood (president). And of course, near and dear to my heart is Operation Love. We have our first back-to-school event coming up Aug. 26, the last Saturday before school starts. And of course, Faith in Action, which is a workgroup under the EEDC (Emancipation Economic Development Council). And there is a new EEDC workgroup called Lots to Love, I’m working closely with. That’s to locate vacant lots in Third Ward, locate the owners of those lots and utilize those lots, especially on busy thoroughfares like Emancipation Avenue. We want to create activity on those vacant lots and have things going on so they’re not just lying there. I’m in a health organization with the University of Houston that started pre-COVID, the Third Ward Health Collaborative. UH’s Tillman Fertitta School of Medicine gathered a lot of community leaders together, and asked what did we want from them? We gave them a list, and they have been coming through with that list, doing things off that list, and I’m really happy about that.
DEFENDER: Can you elaborate on Operation Love?
RODGERS: It occurred to me about eight, nine years ago that there had been numerous attacks on Yates High School. And every time they would come for Yates, the alumni would step up. Then all of a sudden, this thing just popped in my head: “If they’re that determined to get Yates, the best way they can do that is kill the feeder pattern.” There was enough people mentoring high school students, including alumni at Yates, that will come through when they need them. I looked at Blackshear and thought this feeder pattern is starting to dwindle; fewer and fewer kids going through and getting to Yates. So, I decided to focus my attention at the elementary level. I talked to the principal (Alicia Lewis), she flung the doors wide open and told me what they needed. Back then, she had a man on staff, Mr. Lee. Those two nourished Operation Love in the very beginning. The main thing Lewis told me was, “I don’t believe a lot of my kids are going to get a wrapped Christmas present, so this is what we want.” So, that was the focus for the first Operation Love… As I was hanging around there more, I could see a greater need. So, every year Operation Love adds some new component.
DEFENDER: Were you just born with this community spirit or was there something that opened up this community connection with you?
RODGERS: At my age right now I’m trying to figure out how did I get here. And when I thought about it, I thought about my parents and their work in the community in Beaumont. And then, about 30 years ago, when I was around 40, I had a great aunt die and at the top of the (service) program it said “Family Motto,” which I was totally unaware of, “Not For Ourselves, But For Others.” I was excited about that. And when I really thought about it, I went, “Oh, that’s what I’m doing. I understand it now.” So, I understand why my parents were about that life.
DEFENDER: What are the benefits to serving community with your wife? Because I rarely see you without her or her without you.
RODGERS: A lot of times I’ll queue up what I call our theme song. She hadn’t adapted it yet , but it’s Beyonce and Jay-Z’s “Bonnie and Clyde ’03.” I kind of changed the words up a little bit. It’s “Bonnie and Clyde ’23.” As we back out of the driveway and go to a meeting or an event, that keeps me pumped. And having her there… I am not the most talented man in the world, but I tell you, when I look around and see how blessed I am, my wife, my two daughters, they’re just amazing. And I tell you another thing, the Super Neighborhood 67 board officers that are currently serving are tremendously talented people. I’m just blessed to be surrounded by that crowd of witnesses.
DEFENDER: What do to get out of your service to community?
RODGERS: I truly believe in love. I believe that love conquers all, and that’s all I want to do. The motto of Operation Love is, “We love because He first loved us.” This is why we do what we do. And, I tell you, I really don’t like a lot of publicity. I’m comfortable talking about myself, but, it’s just a love, and to see it passed onto the next person. I read a quote recently that said something about “planting seeds whose shade you will never enjoy.” I don’t remember who said that, but it really struck a chord with me. And I thought, “Yeah; that’s what it’s about. It’s about planting seeds of trees who shade you will never enjoy.”
DEFENDER: Any other words you want to share?
RODGERS: We need to get together. We need to build, we need to work, we need to be together. As I interact with different people, different organizations, different government officials, I’ve come to realize that most of us have the same goal. The problem is, we all have a different way to get there. And I think that if we stop hindering people from going, as long as they’re going toward that same goal, let them go that way. And you go your way. We’re going to end up in the same place, and we can all learn something from those trips.
MORE ABOUT KEN RODGERS
Birthplace: Beaumont, Texas
College: Lamar University
Faith Home: Jones Methodist Church (2504 Almeda Genoa Rd., Houston, TX 77047)
Favorite food: Fried shrimp
Favorite thing about Houston: Third Ward