Smith always said, “you don’t throw away people”
Pastor Jerome Smith, whose Greater Praise Church of God in Christ was a fixture on Center Street and who co-founded a faith-based project with U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson to help formerly incarcerated people get jobs, has died.
We previously wrote about the Joseph Project, an inspirational jobs program effort by Smith, Johnson, and Orlando Owens, a Milwaukee minister. Johnson’s Wisconsin state outreach director, Scott Bolstad, is also heavily involved. They developed the jobs program together. It doesn’t take any government money but relies on donors, business partners, and volunteers. The Joseph Project is a faith-based initiative in Milwaukee’s inner city that helps find people, many of them recently released from prison, work.
“Pastor Jerome Smith has been called home by his Heavenly Father,” Johnson said in a statement. “So many lives, including mine, were enriched by knowing and loving such a good person. He will be sorely missed by his family and friends. Please provide them comfort with your prayers.”
Pastor Jerome Smith has been called home by his Heavenly Father. So many lives, including mine, were enriched by knowing and loving such a good person. He will be sorely missed by his family and friends. Please provide them comfort with your prayers. pic.twitter.com/1XnxV3NGIO
— Senator Ron Johnson (@SenRonJohnson) April 27, 2021
According to Bolstad, the program, which started in 2015, has helped about 800 people with more than 500 of those gainfully employed in life-sustaining jobs ($15 an hour in some cases) with full benefits. Employers say the retention rate, about 70%, is better than it is for employees who walked in the door on their own.
Owens told Wisconsin Right Now that Pastor Jerome Smith has been “active in the church and helping with the community for years. He did his part. He was very faithful to the church for many years and doing outreach.” He described Smith as a “giving” man who would “give anybody anything.”
Smith always said, “you don’t throw away people,” said Owens. “He had a vision to rebuild Center Street.”
With the Joseph Project, he said that Smith “cared about it a lot because he really wanted to see families come together. He was a really big family guy. He was always concerned about fathers being in the home. He wanted people to have gainful employment. This was a natural fit for helping people already. He’s always been a helper.”
According to Karen Domagalski, operations manager in the County Medical Examiner’s office, the office is investigating Smith’s death as a “probable COVID death” although that is not finalized.
She said that Pastor Jerome Smith received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on April 1. He was admitted to the hospital on April 16, and he died on April 27. He had an “extensive medical history,” she said. We learned he was awaiting a transplant. He was 49-years-old.
In 2014, Pastor Smith “started Greater Praise COGIC in the lower level of his home with only three people in attendance, his wife first lady Markeitha Smith his oldest daughter sister Lakeitha cook-Jaster and himself,” his bio says. “Within three weeks the home could not hold the church simply was not enough space.”
Greater Praise moved to a permanent location of 5422 W. Center street with more than 100 in attendance. “This location is where Pastor Smith dedicated his life to Christ back in 1997.”
Pastor Jerome Smith held many positions over the years, including: Trustee, Boys League President, Pastor’s Aide President, Men Department President, Chairman of GSAC, Sunday School Teacher, Property Manager, Finance Committee Chair, District Public Relations, District Purity, District Missions President, Jurisdictional Missions Department Chairman, as well as Jurisdictional Home and Foreign Missions President.
Pastor Jerome Smith Sr. has been married to Lady Markeitha Lynn Smith since 1990.
According to his bio, Pastor Jerome Smith Sr. was born January of 1972 in Chicago, Illinois. “He is the grandson of the late Mother Elizabeth Smith. Pastor Smith received a GED at the age of 26, and earned his bachelors degree in finance in 2011 from Woodfield University,” the bio says.
He had a dramatic personal story.