Kevin Kitrell Ross, known to his flock as "Rev. Kev," is keeping the legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. alive at Unity of Sacramento.
The church at 9249 Folsom Blvd. has attracted Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and agnostics because of its message of the power of positive thinking and living and charting your own spiritual course.
Ross came to Sacramento in 2010 to assume the helm of a 300-family Unity congregation whose roots in Sacramento reach back 106 years. Ross is a well-regarded motivational speaker who has been featured on Oprah. The Teen Dream Camp he founded with his wife, Anita a program dedicated to ending teen suicide, preventing teen pregnancy and keeping youth free of drugs, violence and disease has been honored at the Smithsonian Institution.
He met with Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama at the 1999 Parliament of World Religions in South Africa.
Ross, 39, grew up on the south side of Chicago. His father is a jazz musician, and his mother once taught in Cabrini-Green, one of the nation's roughest housing complexes. He attended King's alma mater, Morehouse College, and was the first person ordained at Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse.
What is Unity?
Unity belongs to the New Thought Movement, a collection of loosely connected churches, centers, and study groups that believe the ancient wisdom traditions in the Bible, the Torah, the Quran and the Baghavad Gita contain practical applications. The Jewish tradition talks about the importance of giving; in Islam it's the Zakat. We try to boil down what's really being emphasized here: generosity of spirit. We refer to ourselves as truth students, and our primary textbook is the Bible. But our search for inspiration does not end with Jesus Christ. We believe truth can be found anywhere and everywhere, and that all paths lead to God.
Unity is not a system of laws, rituals, dogma or regulation. It's a center for self-discovery, insight and spiritual exploration. The presence of God dwells in each individual. Jesus is a great example, not the great exception.
Why would people of other faiths attend?
Because we don't tell them what to think. We free people to be trusted with their own spiritual journey. Other religions make it difficult to marry someone of a different faith, and within the Unity context none of that matters. We are looking at the soul of a person that person's essence. You don't have to abandon the traditions of your origin. If there's something that still feeds and nurtures you and gives you solace, honor that. But if there are parts of that tradition that no longer feel genuine for you, reach for what satisfies your soul. You are not just one thing. Your story is a quilt and all the various influences on your life are part of who you are. We have people who come to us and go to temple, Muslims who go to Jumu'ah, the Friday prayer. Unity gives them the ability to coexist with people of different backgrounds and find a common thread.
How do you explain a senseless crime like the murder of a 10-year-old girl while watching TV with her parents?
We believe we are each a divine center where God dwells and we are to be an expression of compassion, oneness, generosity and service. If being a sinner (the concept of original sin) is your starting point, you may believe "I'm helpless and hopeless," which leads to apathy, which can lead to violence. When I recognize that my community is not limited to people who look like me, or those who share my economic background or my language, we will realize "it was my daughter who was shot." As Dr. King said, we live in a world house and global citizenship is every person's responsibility.
Where else do you intersect with Dr. King?
I want you to grow spiritually enough to love all the colors you see, all the diversity, and to recognize the uniqueness and the oneness you share with each individual. Unity is such a place where King's dream "where we can live together as brothers, not suffer together as fools," can happen safely and frequently.
What's Unity's stance on gay marriage?
Not all Unity ministers are ready to honor same-sex couples. Any couple has to demonstrate their ability to take on the challenges and and maturity of being in a monogamous relationship.
As an African American, it's antithetical to my personal values and experiences to discriminate against another minority group. Dr. King would be at the forefront of the conversation viewing this as a civil rights issue. You can't legislate love, people are going to do what they're going to do anyway. I see a lot more damage taking place among heterosexual married couples. Heterosexual marriage is not impressive or special, given that 50 percent end in divorce.
Call The Bee's Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072. Follow him on Twitter @stevemagagnini.