James Hart Stern
James Hart Stern
|Born||June 13, 1964|
James Hart Stern (born June 13, 1964) is a civil rights activist, speaker, and author from Los Angeles, California. He is most well known for his work defusing gang violence through a series of summits in the 1980s and 1990s and for his incarceration with Edgar Ray Killen, the former KKK leader who was convicted of the 1964 Mississippi Burning murders.
Early life and education
Stern grew up in Watts, a suburb of Los Angeles. The son of working-class parents, Stern was part of the thriving black community in South Central. His father was a member of the Ethiopian Jewish community, though his mother was a devout Christian. As a teenager, he honed his public speaking skills and apprenticed as a pastor in Tabernacle of Faith Baptist Church under the tutelage of the well respected Reverend Frederick Douglas Ferrell. Reverend Ferrell had been the first black pastor elected to the California State Assembly, representing the 55th District from 1963-1966. Stern's close relationship with his mentor was a formative part of his later entry into the ministry and into activism. He would become a Junior Deacon under Ferrell, eventually speaking at his funeral in 1982 when Stern was just 18 years old.
Ministry and advocacy
After the passing of Ferrell, Stern found a new mentor in the man who took over Ferrell's position as head pastor of the Tabernacle of Faith Baptist Church, Charles Mims. The men developed a close relationship, and it was under Mims that Stern followed his vocation into the ministry. During his late teens and early twenties, Stern studied at both New Providence Theological Seminary and at Grace Bible Institute in Long Beach, California. After four years of study and apprenticeship, he was ordained in 1986 at the age of 22.
Through his work as a pastor, Stern was embroiled in the street level ramifications of gang violence. To make a change for his parishioners and for his community, Stern organized a series of gang summits starting in 1988 to facilitate communication and decrease the violence. Gang leaders from Watts, Crenshaw, Compton, and South-Central Los Angeles met in secret locations to participate in the meetings. In August 1988, more than fifty gang members from the Bloods and the Crips stood on the steps of Los Angeles Court House with Reverend Stern and pledged to create a collective of "silent warriors" in an attempt to put a stop to the needless deaths.
In 1992, Stern founded Hands Across Watts, an organization whose mission it was to create a strong foundation for underprivileged youth in housing projects including Imperial Courts, Nickerson Gardens, and Jordan Down. Stern partnered with the members of the Bloods and the Crips for Hands Across Watts, all with the hope of preserving the truce forged in the previous gang summits.
Following the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, Stern organized a meeting between eighty-five gang leaders and the Korean-American Grocers Association (KAGRO). On May 26, 1992, the summit came together in a local hotel. The outcome was a truce between the two groups, abating some of the racial tension that had fueled the riots.
In 2007, Stern was convicted on five counts of wire fraud. He had been the chief executive officer of the L.A. National Association of Cosmetology, an organization that handled electronic funds transfers (EFTs) and automated clearing house payments (ACH). Several employees skimmed money off the top of the transfers and implicated Stern in their scheme. Stern signed a plea deal for 25 years in prison, on the promise that he would be able to appeal. Throughout the process, Stern maintained his innocence on all charges throughout his incarceration.
Stern was extradited to Mississippi due to many of the charges against him originating from victims in The Magnolia State.
Stern was released from prison on November 8, 2011.
He founded Racial Reconciliation Ministries, an organization dedicated to promoting conversations between people of all races and resolving the wounds of racial conflict. Speaking around the country and working with groups across the country, Stern speaks out on issues of race and coordinates with members of a wide variety of groups.
Stern's biography, Mississippi Still Burning (From Hoods to suits), was published in 2018 by One Human Race Inc and co-authored by North Carolina writer Autumn Karen (as Autumn K. Robinson). Stern resides in Moreno Valley and is the CEO/President of Racial Reconciliation Outreach Ministries Inc. a 501 C.3. Non Profit organization and One Human Race Inc.
National Socialist Movement
On February 28, 2019, the Associated Press reported that, according to Michigan corporate records, in January Stern had replaced Jeff Schoep as the leader of the National Socialist Movement, a long-standing white nationalist organization. How Stern became the leader is not known, but he has said that he wants to use his position to undermine the group. Stern filed documents with a Federal court in Virginia, asking that it issue a judgment against the NSM before one of the Unite the Right rally-related lawsuits pending against the group went to trial.
- "The Fathers of California's Black Politicians". Los Angeles Sentinel. 2010-06-24. Retrieved 2018-01-15.
- "Tabernacle of Faith Baptist Church - Online - 11328 So. Central Av, Los Angeles 90059". tabernacleoffaithbaptistchurch.com. Retrieved 2018-01-15.
- "Stern v. Killen: 40 Acres and a Duel". Retrieved 2018-01-15.
- "Edgar Ray Killen, Grand Wizard of the KKK – Convicted in '64 Killings of Rights Workers, Dies at 92". Press Release Jet. 2018-01-12. Retrieved 2018-05-24.
- Associated Press (February 28, 2019) "Neo-Nazi group's new leader is a black man who vows to dissolve it" NBC News