Pastor Hodge 1961-2022
Editor in Chief
Saturday, October 29, 2022
Pastor Anthony Hodge as he walked from Mascotte to east Winter Garden last September, training for his 54-mile Selma-to-Montgomery walk earlier this year to commemorate the March 1965 civil rights marches, initially halted by violence, that ultimately led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Pastor Anthony Hodge was unafraid to speak truth to power. With his death, Oct. 17, from cancer, Winter Garden lost a fierce community advocate as well as a loving spiritual leader.
I met Pastor Hodge, founder of Finding The Lost Sheep ministry and the Impact Center on Klondike Ave., about two years ago. I’d been researching the story about the revitalization of east Winter Garden that would launch this website, and nearly every person in the neighborhood who spoke with me said, “You really need to talk with Pastor Hodge.”
When we met up at a holiday toy drive sponsored by his wife Sharee’s parenting education program, he told me about the “almost always overlooked” lesson in Washington Carver’s story "Rip Van Winkle.” That, yes, Van Winkle slept for a minute, but more to the point, he slept through the American Revolution.
“That’s what happened to us down here in east Winter Garden,” Hodge told me. “All the things that have been taking place here in the city of Winter Garden, east Winter Garden has been asleep. And I’m one of those who’s been asleep. Through all the times I’ve been in prison, it’s like I’ve been asleep. Now I feel a ‘shakening,’ and it’s saying Wake up! Make the people aware of what is taking place.”
Hodge was never shy or coy about his 23 arrests or the five times he went to prison when he was using and dealing crack — it was one of the first things he shared with me. That personal history made him relatable and able to relate to those in his ministry and the community wrestling with addiction.
Charlie Mae Wilder, an elder in the community, told me recently that Hodge reminded her of older pastors. “He was a realist,” she said. “He said, The bad things I did, I paid for those. I asked for forgiveness. There’s no one perfect but the Father. But he said I am now on the right track and I'm gonna work with him until I die. He was just beautiful inside.”
Hodge preached the gospel of preserving community history, and he was blunt when speaking about his ire over Habitat For Humanity’s decision to christen its new four-home development on Center Street as Criswell Court — after William Criswell, one of the housing organization’s founding board members. It “troubled” him, he said, that the “history of Black people is being eradicated.”
“We’ve got people who’ve been pillars in this community,” he said then, ticking off the names Bland, King, Hope, and Dyson. “How is it you’re naming things after people we are not even aware of?”
Hodge was a supremely gifted orator, usually delivering Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech during Winter Garden’s birthday celebrations for the slain civil rights leader. At the 2021 Juneteenth celebration at the Mildred Dixon Activity Center, he teed up a fiery performance that included part of King’s 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail. Before a Black and white audience that included members of the Winter Garden City Commission and Winter Garden Police Department, he leaned into a passage about Black anger over police brutality and waiting on justice that rang particularly true a year after George Floyd’s death.
Perhaps someone said something about it to him because Hodge later sought me out to ask if I thought it was “too much.” I told him it was spot on. I loved that he was willing to speak uncomfortable truths, understanding, as King said, that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
One morning last September, Sharee phoned me to say Hodge was planning to commemorate the March 7, 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama. He was training for that by walking 24 miles from their Mascotte home to their Impact Center in east Winter Garden. I hopped in my car and drove west on Colonial Drive till I found him in Oakland.
As we walked together, Hodge, who, in March, walked the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery, said he was walking to remind people of the carnage of the day that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, and the civil rights workers who paid the price for voting rights in blood, injury and death.
[The violence helped shift public opinion and a subsequent march on March 21 led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.]
Always the storyteller, Hodge often punctuated our interviews with “I am reminded of a story …” usually about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement.
That day, under a blistering sun, halfway between Mascotte and his Impact Center in east Winter Garden, Hodge told me about Mother Pollard, an elder in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery during the bus boycott of 1955-1956. When King suggested she was too old to walk and should take the bus instead, she said that she would walk like everyone else until the boycott was over. King asked, “Aren’t your feet tired?” And she famously replied, "My feet is tired, but my soul is rested.”
It is Pastor Hodge who is at rest now, taken far too soon from Sharee, their daughter Miracle, the rest of their family and our Winter Garden community. I can only hope we find solace in what a gift this tireless, outspoken leader was to us all.