After being told she had only six months to live, a young African-American woman named Johnnie Colemon traveled from Chicago to Unity Village, Missouri, seeking answers. Not only would she discover that perfect health was her birthright—as natural as the air she breathed—she would enroll in seminary, become an ordained Unity minister, and break racial and genders barriers along the way to forge a mega-ministry worthy of her title as “New Thought Pioneer.”
On August 24, 2016, more than 200 people gathered at Unity Village, the place where it all started for Rev. Dr. Colemon more than 60 years ago. Guests from Chicago, Baltimore, Maryland, other U.S. cities, and Kingston, Jamaica, celebrated her life and legacy as past president of the Association of Unity Churches (now Unity Worldwide Ministries), founder of Christ Universal Temple in Chicago, the Universal Foundation for Better Living, Inc., the Johnnie Colemon Institute, and the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary.
Unity Village Mayor David Vest honored the influential minister and her accomplishments by proclaiming Johnnie Colemon Day at an afternoon service in the Silent Unity Chapel filled with energy that can only be called “divine.” This was followed by plaque and paver dedications in the Rose and Prayer gardens.
The service began with a procession led by officials from Unity World Headquarters, Unity Worldwide Ministries, Christ Universal Temple, and the Universal Foundation for Better Living (UFBL). Speakers included Rev. Dr. Sheila McKeithen, UFLBL president, and Rev. Dr. Derrick Wells, senior minister at Christ Universal Temple. In addition, guests watched a video tribute from entertainer Ben Vereen.
Rev. Dr. Colemon came to Unity Village and made history by desegregating housing. In the early ’50s, while she was a Unity student, housing on Unity grounds was only provided for white students. African-American students had to leave the campus at the end of the day. During her last year of studies, she threatened to quit if on-campus housing wasn’t provided, after which her classmates petitioned the school for her to stay on campus. The school provided a house on campus for black students, and the color barrier was collectively broken.
Rev. Dr. Colemon led the way for many others like Rev. Alberta Ware, director of the Johnnie Colemon Institute and dean of Continuing Education at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, and Rev. Shirley Lawson, the minister director of the Great Lakes Transformational Empowerment Ministries (GLTEM) and founder and minister director of Christ Universal Temple Meditators for Better Living, which held their third retreat at Unity Village.
“My life would not be what it is today without Rev. Dr. Johnnie Colemon,” said Rev. Lawson. “After I toured Unity Village, I knew I wanted to host my meditation retreat here. I went out on the grounds to the Meditation Garden, and while standing in the ‘Love Garden,’ I received the idea to place a plaque and paver there in honor of our founder, Rev. Dr. Johnnie Colemon, who had walked the same grounds some 60 years before.”
Rev. Lawson’s idea became the catalyst for “Johnnie Colemon Day, A Day of Remembrance.” She admits the idea was bigger than her.
“This is the fulfillment of God’s plan,” said Rev. Lawson. “It means an acknowledgement, a thank-you from Unity Village, and all who have been blessed by her courage, strength, and perseverance. This day is honoring the first African-American woman who broke chains of segregation, became a great leader, and builder of people and institutions.”
Rev. Ware agreed. “Rev. Dr. Colemon made a definite impact on Unity Village, Unity School, and the Association of Unity Churches. She had one of the fastest-growing churches in New Thought. She started this ministry from her dining room table.It flourished and continues on today. Even when things got tough, she never stopped the work.”
The “work,” that of teaching the principles of New Thought, often proves life-changing, as in the case of Rev. Dr. Colemon—the woman who touched so many lives and transformed the Unity movement.