Rev. Kevin Kitrell Ross designs his life with wife Anita.
He is Definitely On His Way
by Julie Parker
American River Messenger
Reverend Kevin Kitrell Ross aka "Rev Kev" has written three books, created "Teen Camps" in four states, has been honored at Tufts University and the Smithsonian Institute, met the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela, has been featured in Black Enterprise Magazine, Upscale Magazine, Chicago Sun Times, The Miami Herald, was honored as the 1998 Outstanding Young Man of America, named by Ebony Magazine as one of America's Young Leaders 30 and Under, hosts a radio show "Design Your Life," has traveled to Canada, Africa, South America and the Caribbean, and recently appeared as a guest on one of Oprah's last televisions shows. He's only 37.
Reverend Ross' office is a sanctuary of subdued, grounding colors and soothing aromas. A candle on the corner of his desk emits a gentle glow into the room. "Metaphysically and symbolically," says Ross, "it keeps me holding the light for this community and people in this community."
Ross grew up in three-story in the south side of Chicago in "Roseland/Pullman," a unification of two historical towns. In the 1840's, Roseland was settled by Dutch immigrants, and Pullman was an industrial city created by George F. Pullman, the inventor of the famous Pullman "palace" railway coaches. "It was one of those communities where everybody watched out for each other. My aunt ended up marrying the boy next door."
In the summer, he and his friends would ride their bicycles and swim at Pullman Park. In the winter they would ice skate on the grass. "It would be that frozen."
His father, a well-known jazz guitarist in Chicago, performed around the country in Broadway plays. "Part of the summers as a kid, I grew up in the orchestra pit of these wonderful productions. 'The Wiz' had such a profound impact on how I see I see the world, because of the messages, 'Believe in yourself,' and 'You're always home.'"
My all-time favorite person in the world was my grandpapa, John Houston Tayborn. His favorite saying when cooking was, 'Always put a little love in it.' He was my best friend; a larger-than-life, yet very down-to-earth individual, who was a conglomerate of a southern preacher/Archie Bunker/Homer Simpson. He was reverent and irreverent all at the same time."
Walking the mile to school was a "migration," with waves of children merging with each block. "In the winters in Chicago, snow would be as high as this table. They did not cancel school. Unless a pipe burst, you were going to school."
He competed in his first speech contest at age four. "I learned Itsby Bitsy Spider and won a trophy, and recited it around the school." More speech essays followed. "I have a bunch of trophies at home from those years of speaking and writing."
One of his favorite teachers was Barbara Powell, with whom he keeps in touch. "She was funny and personable. She would come to your house and say, 'Hey, Kevin's not doing well' or 'Kevin's doing great.' She was very in your business.There was no getting around Miss Powell." At his wedding, around 20 years later, Ms. Powell presented to him a letter he had written to her. "It said something like, 'Dear Miss Powell, I know I've not been doing the best in my grades and I've been acting up in class, but I promise to do better. You can count on it.' She had saved it for maybe 20 years. That was really sweet."
She took his class on a college tour, which included Morehouse College, which Dr. Martin Luther King attended. "That's when I made up my mind that that is where I was going."
"I remember going through the application process for Morehouse. They denied me. My grades by comparison to some of the other students from around the country weren't good. They were stellar scholars, and I just wasn't, I was always kind of a B student. They got the cream of the crop at Morehouse. Fortunately for me, I had a lot of extracurricular activities, community service and leadership abilities from high school that really helped my cause." He was accepted on a probationary status. His minister, Dr. Johnnie Coleman, lent him $3,500 to supplement his Pell Grant. "She asked me if I was going to graduate. I said, 'Yes.' 'Will you make me proud?' 'Yes.' I did, and she was at that graduation."
When then President Jimmy Carter partnered with the Atlanta Project to help children receive immunizations, they produced a concert which included Gladys Knight and Michael Jackson, free to all children who received immunizations. "My mentor at the time, Les Brown, was married to Gladys Knight, and she got me VIP tickets. It was really cool. I was about 20 years old. Jackson was sitting down front. I was a couple of rows back. People were literally passing their children to him from the upper bleaches; an assembly line of passing their children down to Michael to hug. He'd kiss them, then send them back up.
As he was making his entrance, I was walking around, and there was this narrow corridor. He and his entourage were coming into the area, and somebody stepped on my foot. I looked up, and there was Michael Jackson. I got out of the way. When I was finally able to walk up and talk to him, it was very brief, because they had security on that front row. But, I did get to say, 'Hi.' He was magical."
Oprah visited his church. "It happened to be a church that Oprah was a favorite of. One of her colleagues, Dr. Barbara King, was a minster there and one of Oprah's spiritual mothers. She took our whole church to go see the movie, 'Beloved.' Afterward, there was a post-talk with the cast and the church staff and congregation. I got a chance to have a little dialogue with her."
Meanwhile, he and childhood friend David Montgomery, who also attended Morehouse, paid for their college tuition by forming a youth motivational speaking duo called "The Brothers of Thunder." "We motivated our peers to stay off of drugs, go to school, to live their dreams." They spoke at colleges, churches and anywhere else people would have them. Eventually, they spoke at Dr. Colemon's church. "That church was the largest in the City of Chicago; 5,000 people attending. That launched us."
"Dr. Johnnie Colemon taught us that we could create the world we desire to live in, by the way we thought. She became a spiritual mother to me. She christened me from birth, was at my high school graduation, came to see me while I was in college, and attended my college graduation. She was there when I became ordained as a minister, and when I got married. I was very privileged to have her in my life, because she taught me so much about who I really am and what my possibilities are."
In 1999, he read an article about the Parliament of the World's Religions that would be taking place in Cape Town, South Africa. Nelson Mandela and the Dali Lama would be attending. "I said, 'I'm there.' I circled the dates on my calendar." When he discovered Dr. Colemon was too busy to host a prayer breakfast for the Chicago delegation of the Parliament, he offered to host it for her. He gave the closing prayer. "It turned out that Dirk Ficca, the President of the Parliament of the World's Religions, was there and he says, 'Young man, you are so impressive. We need people like you at the Parliament. Would you be interested in going?' I said, 'Absolutely I'd be interested.' He says, 'Well, I'd like to sponsor your trip, and if you have some other friends like you, introduce them to me. I may be willing to send them as well.' So, I got an all expense paid trip to Cape Town, South Africa. Ela Ghandi, Ghandi's granddaughter, and some other incredible luminaries were there.
For me, the Parliament was life changing, because of the friends I made. There were over 101 religious traditions represented there. Not people. Traditions. We young adults were called the 'next generation.' We created our own conference, called "Spirit Into Action," which we hosted for about five years. All of us have continued to work together, do great things in the world and support each other's work consistently."
He met his wife, Anita, via an on-line dating service. They moved to Kansas City, where he led a Unity Church, and then resumed his coaching practice and itinerant speaking career from the Brothers of Thunder days. Subsequently, he has been working with the Christ Unity Church in Sacramento a little over a year.
Meanwhile, Ross sat in the audience during a couple of tapings of Oprah's show. "The audience gets to talk, and one time she really liked what I had to say. She says, 'Why didn't you say that when we were filming? Now we're on the commercial break. Can you say it as well as you said it during the commercial break?' I said, 'I can say it better!' She says, 'Okay, when we come back from the break, I'm going to point to you and I'm going to ask you to repeat yourself.' I said, 'Okay, no problem.'
In one instance after that, she sees me and says, 'Weren't you here before?' I said, 'Yes.' 'Didn't you say something profound then? Weren't you sitting there with a gray suit on and a silver tie?' She described me to my teeth. I said, 'Yes.' She says, 'What's your name?' I said, 'Kevin Ross.' My dad was sitting there. She said, 'Watch out for this guy. He's gonna be sharp. That's Kevin Ross, y'all.' So, she kind of flagged me at the time.
It was always a dream to be an invited guest on the show. I had her on the vision board. They asked for 'ultimate male viewers.' I said, 'That's me! They asked ladies to write in about the men in their lives who loved Oprah Winfrey. So, my wife wrote in. Essentially, she said, 'Kevin is your ultimate male viewer and you are the other woman in our lives.' We heard nothing back, it was almost over, and I gave up. Maybe it wasn't meant to be.
On May 5th or so, my wife comes screaming upstairs, 'The Oprah Winfrey Show is on the phone!' I said, 'Stop it, Anita.' 'No, they are, and they're going to call you on your cell phone.' I'm on the treadmill working out, and sure enough they contact me. I'm huffing and puffing, and was kind of delirious there for a minute. 'Your wife outed you, that you're Oprah's ultimate male viewer. We were wondering if you would be willing to come to Chicago to tape a surprise tribute to Oprah Winfrey.'.
I get another phone call. 'We would love for you and your wife to come back for Oprah's Surprise Spectacular. We're going to reveal two shows that we're taping – all surprises to Oprah. Your tribute will be among them.' Anita and I flew back to the United Center in, where 13,000 people were gathered for this huge surprise. All of Hollywood, was there it seemed like. They just dumped Hollywood upside down.
The greatest part of this whole experience wasn't even that my dream was coming true, but to witness what one person can do with his or her life. I witnessed her witness her own impact. Oprah has sent 65,000 people to school, and there were thank you's from the people. Among those, she put 414 Morehouse men through college, through her Oprah Winfrey scholarship. They came back to say thank you. So, that was really the greatest take-away for me. That's what has me on fire right now. I get to use my life, not to get that effect, but to lead such a life like that." He is definitely on his way.
He and Anita are the driving forces behind Teen Dream Camp (teendreamcamp.org). "It's committed to interrupting teen patterns of self-sabotage and suicide by launching the dreams and hearts of teenagers, starting at the ages of 13 through 19. We help them identify, awaken, develop their dreams, and teach them the principles of manifestation, so they can actually see some of their dreams coming true. It's a series of intensive weekend camps over the summer. We have them in Florida, Kansas City, Chicago, but they originally started in Atlanta in 1994, when I was a student in Morehouse. We've started exploratory work for Sacramento."
Two of his books are on backorder, and he's working on another. "It's semi-autographical and self-help in nature. We extrapolated principles that I use to create these amazing stories - stories that excite, but then help you to do it. It will help you become the person it takes to live your boldest dreams. You'll blow yourself way. It will always be better than you think it could be."
Anita has also authored a book, "Mean Time Love; A Woman's Journey From Self-Loathe to Self-Love". "She's helping women to reconnect with their authenticity and to break through cycles of abuse and to chart their own path." (anitaross.net)
And speaking of books, he carries Deepak Chopra's "Seven Spiritual Laws of Success" with him. "I just love it. It's raggedy. It's a good friend."
He hosts the radio show "Design Your Life" on the Unity Church's online radio network Unity.Fm. "I interview experts and everyday people for their success principles on how they have achieved certain things in life and how we can design and live the lives of our dreams. Sometimes you can design it, but you're not living it. I'm urging people to become people of purpose, passion, peace and prosperity." The show airs every Wednesday at 10:00 PST (unity.fm).
Some of his parishioners may be surprised to learn he loves to dance Salsa and Maranga, roller skate and is an interior design buff. "When I was in college, at the time I was with my former fiancé, we had a business called, 'Almost Home,' and we would decorate college dormitories to make them feel a little more like home. If you notice in my office, you have a blend of wood, steel, glass; the different elements."
He recently played a small cameo role Sacramento State University's production of one of his favorites – "The Wiz." "That was so huge, because I was again living my dream.
I feel like the Wiz. He inspired me to take the journey. When people say, 'I love coming to your church. I love hearing you.' I inspired you to get here, and get to a place where you wake up to who you truly are."