As her health is declining, friends and family of Pastor Mary Overstreet Smith are holding a celebration with her, May 16-18, at the Powerhouse Temple of God in Christ on North Williams Avenue in Portland.
Pastor Mary has spent her life in service to the community. The founder of the Powerhouse Temple, she also helped start the North by Northeast Community Health Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“Celebrating the work she is continuing to inspire, is how I see it,” says Jill Ginsberg, MD, the health center's director. “What I’ll never forget about my early meetings with Pastor Mary, when we were talking about the clinic as an idea, was her telling me I didn’t have to completely figure it out -- I just had to keep going.
“That is a message she has taught many people,” Ginsberg says.
In 2005, Pastor Mary sold her home to support survivors of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, eventually helping some 40 families get back on their feet by relocating to the Portland area.
Honored on Portland State University's “Walk of the Heroines,” Pastor Mary, early in her career, organized a network of services to prison inmates and their families, founding Straight Talk on the Inside and Straight Talk on the Outside.
In 2006, the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority named Pastor Mary a "Woman of Excellence," honoring her for her work with Hurricane Katrina refugees, and her work as a religious leader as the founder and of Harvest Time Ministry TV Cable Services. That year The Skanner News Group honored her with the John Jackson Award for her community work.
Pastor Mary is famous for her twice-yearly blanket and coat drive for houseless Portlanders. In her years as a community advocate, she also started food banks and homeless shelters.
When Pastor Mary's autistic great-grandson, Sir J. Millage, was Tasered by police in 2009, she organized resources to create a day center for autistic adults, the Sir Millage Autistic Center for Change, where their family members and caregivers could drop them off in a safe place, while getting time away for errands and relaxation.
Larry Collins, founder of People of Purpose and Associates, says that for all Pastor Mary has done, her supporters want to set aside time for people in her local community to offer her personal, spiritual and financial support, while her health allows.
Collins says Pastor Mary was instrumental in helping him build POPA, which offers annual community events with neighborhood cleanups, a youth basketball tournament and free barbecue. In past years POPA has arranged cooling centers during heat waves and literacy projects for former inmates coming home to their communities.
"For me she is strong because she is a giver, she was the first Michael Jordan,” he says. “She practices what she preaches, she made the community safer.”
Speakers at the events will include Rev. W.G. Hardy of Highland Church of God in Christ, Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, Dr. Jill Ginsberg of the North by Northeast Health Clinic, and more. Guests will be allowed to speak as well, and participants are encouraged to write a check to help pay Pastor Mary’s expenses.
The events with Pastor Mary are May 16 and 17, 7 p.m., at the PowerhouseTemple, 4525 North Williams Ave., and Sunday May 18, 3 p.m., at Powerhouse.
RSVP by e-mailing [email protected], or call 503 839-8676.
Find our more about the North by Northeast Clinic at www.nxneclinic.org.