By: Chelsea Davis-Bibb, Ed.D.
HOUSTON- “I just did what God wanted me to do,” said Rev. Dr. Rolen Womack Jr., the oldest of six children, who was born in Houston, Texas on February 17, 1946. His father moved to Acres Homes from Montgomery, Texas in 1936. His mother was from Louisianna and stayed home to take care of the family. His dad was a businessman and was the sole provider of the household. He also held a full-time job working in the oil industry and was the first African American manager at his company.
Rev. Dr. Womack attended A.B. Anderson Elementary and attended Carver Junior Senior High School. He grew up working with his dad at one of his businesses and working on cars. He graduated from Carver Junior Senior School in 1964. He had a good childhood growing up as his dad took his family on vacations, and his father, being the hard worker he was, sent all his kids to college without the use of any loans.
After he graduated from high school, he attended Hutson-Tillotson College where he met his wife, Dr. Betty Womack in September of 1964. A few weeks before he met his wife, he received his calling to preach, but without the life experiences he wanted, he asked God to wait. He mentioned that God gave him “the desires of his heart,” so that he would accept his calling without any excuses.
He was married by his junior year in 1966, had a child, dropped out of college, started working, and helped his wife through school. Even though he was satisfied in his professional life, he felt uncomfortable being around people “who matriculated their way through a university” and he had not done so. With this feeling, he went back to school and attended Texas Southern University where he received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science and History in 1988.
His intention was to never be preacher, let alone a Pastor, but God has a way of bringing you into your purpose. “I didn’t think I was going to be a preacher because we didn’t grow up in a church…I do believe God was working on my life.”
In the early 80’s, his wife wanted to take a job out of state, so they moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He started a church in his basement and was “terrible at it.” He didn’t attend much church growing up, but he did attend an Episcopal church, which was a religion that had a “totally different religious expression now for an African American person.” He was the senior and founding pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in 1987. To become a better leader, he decided to attend Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois where he graduated in 1993. He also furthered his education and received his Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary in June 1998.
Rev. Dr. Womack wanted to do something with the church regarding social justice and stated, “We decided we were going to do a unique paradigm for ministry.” With an interest in activism derived from his father, he discussed how some churches “are not typically interested in social justice when it comes to issues regarding voting, wage disparity, and the power of Black and brown people coming together to make a change. The ministry afforded me the opportunity to do that.”
When discussing the events that have occurred in today’s time regarding Black people, voter suppression, and discrimination, he thought every Black and brown person in Houston would be “up in arms over it”, but how there is a lack of concern for what is happening in the community.
Rev. Dr. Womack has never forgotten where he has come from, and he has always fought for justice. He spoke of a time when the governor of Wisconsin did not like the things he was saying to the community, and sent someone to find out what it would take to keep him quiet. With that in mind, he made it a priority to get that governor out of office by working to get Jim Doyle elected. Because of his efforts and the efforts of many others, Jim Doyle was elected and served from 2003 to 2011. When former Governor Doyle took office, he asked Rev. Dr. Womack, “What job do you want.” His response was, I have a better job than the one you just won… I want your cabinet to look like the state of Wisconsin.” Because there were no Black people serving on the cabinet, he wanted it to be a true reflection of what the state looked like, and former Governor Doyle delivered on his promise. Rev. Dr. Womack made it known that it is important for church leaders to step forward in the community if we want any kind of change to take place.
In 2011, Rev. Dr. Womack retired from Progressive Baptist Church and returned to Houston to take care of his mother. He never intended to come back to Houston but stated, “I believe God released me from that, and I felt that it was my bound and duty to rake care of my mom.”
Today, the Rev. Dr. Womack enjoys spending his time with his beautiful wife, his two daughters, and four grandchildren. He also enjoys traveling the world.
He has achieved so much during his journey thus far and has donated so much of his time helping others. These endeavors include; being a chairperson of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, a division of People for the American Way, he has participated in many national education forums, has served on the transitional team for former Governor Jim Doyle, founded a nonprofit called WINGS (Working To Inspire, Nurture, and Grow for Service) International with his wife, which is focused on addressing educational advancement, violence prevention, and housing needs for people living with HIV/AIDS, and has received numerous proclamations from government officials just to name a few.
For someone who had no intention of being a preacher, God truly placed him in a position to help the lives of many. As he closed, he stated, “God took us away from Houston to Wisconsin to allow us an opportunity to grow and be bigger than ourselves.”