Christian faith is Gardena man’s beacon

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Photo by Gary Kohatsu – Larry Dozier performs a song during Black History Month and the release of the Black Heritage Stamp in February at the Hollypark United Methodist Church. Dozier has been a member of HUMC for almost 20 years.

By Gary Kohatsu

The year 2020 marks a dark time in man’s history, but religious leaders such as Larry Dozier of Gardena says he sees the events of today with spiritual clarity.

Dozier, a member of the Hollypark United Methodist Church for nearly 20 years and a certified lay minister, uses Biblical references to define his view of the world’s darkness.

He explains that God speaks to his people, blessing them when they obey his commandments. 

“The rain came in its season,” Dozier says. “Crops grew. Enemies were defeated. There was relative peace.”

Continuing, he says that when God’s wishes were disobeyed, his people experienced attacks by their enemies, are placed into slavery and felled by plagues. Crops failed and there were droughts.

“When they repented and turned from their evil ways, God blessed them with rain, bountiful crops and freedom from their oppressors,” he says.

Throughout the Bible there is the teaching that “we love our neighbors” as ourselves and to be our brothers’ keepers.

Dozier sees the world’s troubles as a reflection of failed leadership.

“From my point of view, America has elected a ‘bad king,’” Dozier says. “He flouts our laws, colludes with our enemies, attacks our citizens…. When those in charge failed to hold these bad kings accountable, God did.”

Furthermore, Dozier says religious leaders have been derelict in their duties.

“As Christians, we are to speak truth to power,” he says. “That is not happening. We have failed in our responsibility. We have religious groups rather than trying to guide Mr. Trump in the right way, (are) upholding and justifying his actions.”

Photo by Gary Kohatsu – Larry Dozier shares a Black Lives Matter message with passing motorists in June outside of the Hollypark United Methodist Church, where he has been a member since the New Millennium. The HUMC Men’s group sponsored the event.

The novel coronavirus plaguing the world is part of man’s punishment because “we” have strayed from God’s law, Dozier believes. He says that “loving our neighbors” is shown in the wearing of masks, practicing social distancing and staying at home as much as possible. Dozier explains this is the Lord’s will and when practiced, the curve flattens. When ignored, the curve spikes. 

Dozier shares this passage:

Answering this prayer from Solomon, God responds in 2Chronicles 7:13-14 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Church and Family

Hollypark United Methodist Church sits in the north Gardena area with 300 members under the leadership of Pastor Cavalain Hawkins. Dozier, 70, who joined the church in October 2000 is president of the HUMC Men.

The church has adapted to virtual weekly services during the pandemic. A couple of members are or have recovered from the virus, Dozier notes. Online fellowships have been a smooth transition. Members who have moved out of the area, have been able to remain connected via Zoom conferencing.

Dozier served St. John’s United Methodist Church in Watts from 2016 to 2019, where among other duties he hosted meetings with community organizations via Zoom.

“I was quite familiar with the applications, so we went from physical meetings to virtual meetings at Hollypark,” Dozier says. “We never missed a service.”

Dozier and wife Erma, have been married for 40 years and have three children and three grandchildren. He and Erma have also been foster parents to more than 100 children for nearly all their years of marriage. Dozier retired a few years ago from the United State Postal Service, where he worked for 39-1/2 years as a communication programs specialist in Los Angeles.

Born in Newville, Ala., Dozier was one of six children raised by mom Evelyn and stepdad Herbert McGlon. He grew up in the city of Dothan, in southeast Alabama, which is often referred to as the “Tri-state” area. He attended Carver High School, where he played basketball.

“The greatest memory of my youth was the freedom to run and play all over the neighborhood without fear,” Dozier says. “Most of the time all the kids in my community could be found at ‘The Center.’ It was a big recreational area with a gym, bleachers on one side. On the other side were tables with chairs or benches where we played, checkers, cards, dominoes, etc. Stayed and played there all day, every day in the summer.”

As a youth, his family was spiritually invested in the church.

“My mother, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins were all involved in church. That was great,” Dozier says. “Every Sunday was like a family reunion. I remember on special Sundays all the ladies of the church would prepare a grand feast and after church (outside lawn) everyone would stay around and eat to their fill and the children would be playing all over the churchyard. It was great fun. Our lives revolved around the church. 

He says that ‘the church’ taught kids to respect their elders, to be honest and to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Those disciplines he says is what “more youth could use today.”

“Back then one would never hear a youth, no matter what age, use profanity around an adult,” Dozier says. “We did (curse), of course, but if an adult came within ear shot, one of us would say, ‘be quiet, here comes Mr. Jones,’ for example. Not so today, nearly every word coming out of the mouths of some youth today is profanity.”

Music has been a staple of the Dozier family for generations. On a given weekend, before the pandemic, the HUMC congregation was entertained by the Dozier Singers Family & Friends.

“My parents met at a young age and sang in a musical group together,” Dozier says. “My uncle, the Rev. Raymond Dozier, was a part of that group. He started the group in which we sing now, the Dozier Singers Family & Friends (DSF). This is really the second generation of the group. It now includes two of his sons, Jerry and Raymond Dozier Jr., and me, of course. Jerry is our musical director. He has played lead guitar for The Temptations, Tom Jones, the late Johnny Guitar Watson and a host of others.”

Dozier says his goal and that of his church is to spread the Gospel, “to prove Jesus as it were.” While DSF sings mostly Gospel, the group also performs message songs, such as The Impossible Dream, Dance with my Father again, and Wonderful World

“I look at music as ministry. It helps us spread the Gospel in a different way,” he adds. 

With his roots in the south and having been a teenager when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other black leaders protested for racial equality, Dozier saw unrest up close. He experienced the struggles of blacks to exercise their basic American rights, including voting.

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement today is an ongoing protest for the African American voice. He observes this current movement as having a positive impact on people in general.

“I think the people of this country have a better understanding of the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, because of the circumstances surrounding the murder of George Floyd,” Dozier says. “People, other than people of color, got a good look at what Black people have been experiencing all along.  Many can see it was not just playing the race card. People, other than people of color, have been forced to take a hard look at the injustice that routinely takes place as regards to Black lives vs. others.  It’s always been a matter of justice.”

He believes that African American history is better presented and taught in schools today than in the past, due to more black educators in the teaching profession. This education can also be reflected in the work environment.

“When I was in middle and high school, I was taught about two or three Black achievers: Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, and a few others,” Dozier says. “But I had no idea of all the accomplishments of Blacks in America until I was much older and began studying Black History. 

“My eyes were opened even more as I worked in public relations for the U.S. Postal Service and we began issuing Black Heritage stamps every year. We really did build this country in so many ways, too numerous to name: designed the capitol area (Washington, D.C., Benjamin Banneker) made possible the performance of the first open heart surgery, designed traffic lights, helped send men into space, fought as regular enlisted men and women plus as Buffalo Soldiers, flew combat missions. In every area, we had a hand in making this country great.”

In June 2020, Dozier and fellow HUMC Men’s members staged a Black Lives Matter rally outside their Gardena church. The event included prayer, kneeling as a sign of support and solidarity, and displaying handmade message signs — including going to the polls and voting.

“(Today’s youths) see a way to get involved and have their voices heard,” he says. “While many have become enlightened and more are becoming enlightened, too many others do not appreciate the road we’ve traveled over the centuries and the sacrifices made by the likes of the late John Lewis and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I say this because while they are demonstrating, marching and protesting, they are not taking their actions to the voting booths where it can really make a difference. I’d like to see all those protesters who are of age, register and vote.”

Faith and Politics

Dozier is not shy about sharing his politics, and personal support for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. While he approves of Biden, Dozier says that he is gender neutral on the running-mate choice. But agrees that there are some very qualified and powerful female representatives.

“I think Joe Biden will select a woman to be his running mate,” Dozier says. “He said that he would. I believe him. Don’t necessarily agree that he needs to do this, but it is his call.”

“Whether it is a woman of color is not that important, but I do want him to select someone who will help him to win. Many of the women of color that have been mentioned would make great candidates: Rep. Val Deming, Sen. Kamala Harris, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Also, I think Elizabeth Warren would be a good choice. I’m open on this (choice being a woman).”

Dozier maintains his belief that how we survive the pandemic and other worldly challenges is a matter of faith in God and life choices.

“I believe this virus is part of the punishment that we are suffering because we have gotten away from God’s laws,” he says. “The Bible tells us that we shall ‘reap what we sow.’ (Galatians 6:7) Some call it Karma.”

Dozier adds that Christians and the Christian church should be more vocal in dealing with social issues. He urges all men to do what he can “to right wrongs.”

“My No. 1 (passage) is from the Gospel of St. Matthew, 6:33, which says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be added as well.” 

“I like also Ephesians 6:10-21, which talks about putting on the whole armor of God because we fight not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual beings in high places.”