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How the story of this Northern California community is intertwined with the story of a church

By Janna Velazquez ::

The Baptist Church has been a staple in African-American and Black churches since the times of slavery and was the first to allow African-Americans any semblance of equality, providing a platform for Black religious leaders. Black churches existed in all parts of the South, offering a way out of mental slavery and hope of salvation. Transcending slavery, state boundaries and generations, Marin City still carries that legacy.

Originally developed to house a culturally diverse community of skilled workers that were often recruited from the South to support the war effort working in the shipyards in the early 1940’s, Marin City is not actually an official city, at all. Instead, it is considered unincorporated community of Marin County, one of the wealthiest counties in the country. Marin City has no shortage of religious community gathering spaces including a Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Baptist, and nondenominational church. The first church established in Marin City was the First Missionary Baptist Church, established in 1944. Since its founding, the church has been a gathering space for all of Marin City residents, often sharing and interchanging members with the other churches in Marin City. Due to institutional segregation, including redlining as well as environmental, geographic, and overt racism, the population of Marin City and its original settlers brought and established families that have created an insulated community that has mixed and multiplied throughout the generations. Though many of the original residents have left for various reasons over the years, they still have numerous family connections in Marin City. Apart from the ones that are still holding strong residing in the community, many of the congregants of the historic First Missionary Baptist Church find themselves with an enduring connection.

Congregants gather on a weekly basis, in person or online, to worship in the traditions of their ancestors. With voices that echo the heavens, the Praise Team begins the service, inspiring worshipers with their talent and conviction under the direction of Minister of Music Ron Rosson. Dr. Rondall Leggett leads the church as its long-time Senior Pastor, highly respected and sought-after inside and outside the community. Dr. Leggett’s warm, yet powerful presence welcomes the congregants to worship together in the spirit of salvation, forgiveness, and healing. Each of the congregants have a deep connection to the community of Marin City, all with their own stories, experiences, and perspectives.

This photo story is meant to uplift the legacy of Marin City beyond the ongoing oppressive struggle residents still face today, but instead focus on the resilience of the population through their tireless faith and active participation in the church. The story of Marin City is intertwined with the story of First Missionary Baptist Church.

A view from above Highway 101 of Marin City, Calif., July 24, 2022. Marin City is a community in one of the most affluent counties in the country, yet it has only one entrance in and out of the community that is prone to floods and vulnerable to sea level rise. Exacerbated by toxic highway runoff, residents and community members are essentially cut off from entering or exiting during floods. A historically Black community, Marin City is used as a training ground for the police department. Discrimination in housing, education, employment, access to transit has left residents without “a pathway to economic stability” says Reverend Leggett.

The First Missionary Baptist Church sits tall on a hill in Marin City, Calif. July 23, 2022 This church is a pillar of the community, offering supports for all who reside in Marin City, whether or not they are a part of the church. Aside from Sunday service, the church offers a men’s group, sister’s group, youth group, mental health advocacy services, and even sponsors the local middle school, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy. Often, the Reverend is called before any other disciplinary action is taken.

Senior Pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church Dr. Reverend Rondall Leggett stands outside of his church in Marin City, Calif. August 14, 2022. Leggett prefers to be referred to as Rondall. Born in Pineville, Louisiana, Leggett and his younger brother Rodney were raised by their single mother in the Bayview Hunter’s Point neighborhood of San Francisco since1964. Growing up, Pastor Leggett explains, “whether you were a believer or not, you goin’ to church.” Leggett was first introduced to Marin City while attending the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary fifteen years ago. Originally asked to give the sermon to fill in for a colleague, Pastor Leggett was invited to return and has been here ever since.

Lizzie sings gospel classic “My Help” at the Progressive Baptist Educational District Association hosted at the Calvary Hill Community Church, bringing worshipers to tears with her moving interpretation in San Francisco, Calif., August 14, 2022. At the First Missionary Baptist Church, service usually begins with the Praise Team calling to worship with their heavenly voices and powerful energy through gospel music. An extremely talented singer, Lizzie was recruited from Berkeley, Calif. to sing with First Missionary Baptist Church by Minister of Music Ron Rosson. Immediately recognizing the unity of the community, Lizzie said she loves it here because “it felt like family. Everyone knows everyone and a lot of them are related.” Lizzie’s performance was so powerful at service, she was invited to sing the selection for this event later that evening in San Francisco.

Congregants receive the gospel during Sunday service at First Missionary Baptist Church in Marin City, Calif., August 2, 2022. Though many have returned to in-person service, others have chosen to worship from the safety and convenience of their home, with the church adapting to the demand with a new camera and audio system. Reflecting on this, congregation member Vivian Coffee states, “The church is never going to be the same. There is a new normal.”

The church organ is played under the direction of the Minister of Music Ron Rosson at First Missionary Baptist Church in Marin City, Calif., August 2, 2022.

First Missionary Baptist Church member Vivian Coffee listens to the sermon at the Progressive Baptist Ministry Educational District Association conference held at Calvary Hill Community Church in San Francisco, Calif. August 14, 2022. Mrs. Coffee is a staple of First Missionary Baptist Church. She sings with the Praise Team and is a member of the Women’s Ministry. Originally from Beaumont, Texas, Mrs. Coffee was married to a leader of a church in Santa Rosa that had fellowship with First Missionary Baptist Church since back in the 1960’s. Because of that fellowship, when Dr. Reverend Leggett became Pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church, he asked Reverend Coffee to be his mentor. Years later, Mrs. Coffee found herself as a mentor to Angela Leggett, wife of Pastor Leggett. Mrs. Coffee is full of information and history of the church. She shares how, in Marin City, due to lack of industry and other economic factors “a lot of folks no longer live in the houses they grew up in.


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This entry was posted on September 16, 2022 by .
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