Calvin O. Butts

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Calvin O. Butts
President of the State University of New York at Old Westbury
Personal details
Born Calvin Otis Butts III
(1949-07-19) July 19, 1949 (age 68)
Bridgeport, Connecticut United States
Spouse(s) Patricia Butts
Alma mater Morehouse College
Union Theological Seminary
Drew University
Profession Pastor

Calvin O. Butts III (born July 19, 1949)[1] is the Pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in the City of New York, President of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury, and Chairman and founder of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, an engine for $500 million in housing and commercial development in Harlem.

Early life and education[edit]

Calvin Otis Butts III was born on July 19, 1949, in Bridgeport, Connecticut;[2][3] his father Calvin Otis Butts II was a cook and his mother worked in the welfare department. When Calvin was young, the family moved to Queens, New York, where he attended public schools through high school. He graduated from Flushing High School where he was elected President of the Senior Class of 1967. During the summers, his parents sent him to his grandmothers' homes in rural Georgia.

Butts attended undergraduate college in the South, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. While a student at Morehouse, a historically black college (HBCU), Butts was initiated into the Pi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity; and a current member of the New York Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi.

He returned to New York, where he earned a Master of Divinity Degree in Church History from Union Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate of Ministry in Church and Public Policy from Drew University in New Jersey.


Butts is one of a generation of highly educated, activist ministers in the Black church who have been active in civil rights, social justice and economic development in New York. He was recruited as a youth minister to Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1972, after which he rose within the church. Since being called as senior pastor, he has led a large and influential congregation in Harlem with a history of community leadership. There he founded the Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC) in 1989, an arm of the church that has contributed to community development of schools and commercial facilities, as well as housing.

In the late 1980s, Butts was one of the early supporters of the Harlem Week of Prayer, organized by Pernessa C. Seele with the help of many congregations. His support, along with that of other leaders, helped to mobilize the religious community in support of programs for AIDS patients and their families. Within a few years, Seele founded the Balm in Gilead, Inc., a non-profit devoted to mobilizing religious communities for education, support and prevention of HIV/AIDS.[4]

Responding to community need, in 1986 Butts asked his congregation to come together to rebuild Harlem. In 1989 they founded the non-profit Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC). Over the years, Butts has built pragmatic relationships across party lines in the city and state, including with former Governor George Pataki, to turn ADC into an economic engine. In 1995 Pataki appointed Butts to two state economic development boards: Empire State Development Corporation, formerly the Urban Development Corporation, and the New York State Science and Technology Foundation. Both boards controlled loans and grants to businesses, increasing Butts' network.[5] In 1997 ADC was a joint partner in receiving a contract to develop a major retail center in Harlem.[6]

ADC has created $500 million in housing and commercial development in the neighborhood. "Its projects have included the first high school built in Harlem in 50 years [see below], some of the neighborhood’s first national retail chain stores, one of its first new full-service supermarkets, a department store and a shopping center. Abyssinian also owns more than 1,100 rental units, nearly all of them for low-income residents."[7]

As founder and current chairman, Butts was instrumental in bringing ADC to collaborate with the New York City Board of Education and New Visions for Public Schools and establish the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change. In 2004 the school moved into a new facility.[7] The Abyssinian Development Corporation also supports a local Head Start and the Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School, to ensure that students could get prepared for higher level work, which opened in September 2005.[8][9]

Since 1999 Butts has served as the President of the State University of New York at Old Westbury.[9] He has gained funding for five new residence halls, a Student Union, and new academic center, as well as technology enhancement for the classrooms and dorms.

Reverend Butts delivers a weekly sermon each Sunday at 7:00 AM on 98.7 FM (KISS-FM) Radio.[1]

Spiritual and political beliefs[edit]

He is a major proponent of liberation theology in the African-American church and favors more liberal interpretations of Biblical Scripture and history.

He has gone on record as supporting homosexuals and same-sex unions,[10] based on his understanding that the "Apostle Paul was not Jesus". He suggested that Christians were not bound to specific teachings by apostles.[11]

Popular media[edit]

Butts is featured in the starting moments of famed rappers' Bone Thugs-N-Harmony song "Thuggish Ruggish Bone" (1994). In the clip Butts states: "We're not against rap. We're not against rappers. But we are against those thugs."

In a bootleg copy of a 1995 freestyle battle with Jay-Z, Big L raps: "And every time a mack eleven bucks/I'm killing at least seven ducks/I never was a follower of Reverend Butts."

On the title track, "Station Identification", from Channel Live's debut album, Hakim states: "I'm rollin on 'em, like Calvin Butts up in Harlem.".

Ice Cube in the Scarface song "Hand On The Dead Body" says: "But I bust two times to the gut/Do the Reverend Calvin Butts/Gotta pair of nuts?"

Freddie Gibbs in his 2011 song "Thuggin'" references Butts' famous quote.

Legacy and honors[edit]


  1. ^ a b Calvin O. Butts biography, African American Registry.
  2. ^ ReligionMakers: Rev. Calvin O. Butts, The History Makers.
  3. ^ "Butts, Calvin O.(1949–): Religious leader, activist, college president, lecturer, Chronology", Encyclopedia JRank.
  4. ^ Dorie J. Gilbert and Ednita M. Wright, African American Women and HIV/AIDS, Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Company, 2003, p. 154, accessed January 23, 2009.
  5. ^ Robin Pogrebin, "New Yorkers & Co.: The Political Dance of Calvin Butts", New York Times, December 3, 1995, accessed January 23, 2009.
  6. ^ Jane H. Lii, "Act 2 for Prime Site, and Butts Is Supporting Player", New York Times, June 8, 1997, accessed January 23, 2009.
  7. ^ a b Timothy Williams, "Powerful Harlem Church Is Also a Powerful Harlem Developer", New York Times, August 17, 2008, accessed January 23, 2009.
  8. ^ Sybil Maimin, "Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III & Thurgood Marshall Academy", Education Update Online, February 2008, accessed January 23, 2009.
  9. ^ a b c "President's Biography", SUNY College at Old Westbury, accessed January 23, 2009.
  10. ^ John LoDico, "Calvin O. Butts, III", Gale Contemporary Black Biography.
  11. ^ Peter Jennings, Jesus and Paul: Word and Witness, ABC Documentary, April 5, 2004.

External links[edit]