A scene that is often overlooked in Denzel Washington's 2007 film The Great Debaters features Denzel Whitaker's James Farmer Jr. and Forest Whitaker's Dr. James Farmer Sr. Wearing an excited childlike smile, Farmer Jr. runs in the door with exciting news as his father scans different books in search of a central message for his next speech. Anxious to get a word in, Farmer Sr. asks, "What is the greatest weakness of man?" Unsure of what to say, Farmer Jr. answers, "Not believing. Doubt." Happy with his son's answer, Famer Sr. begins to move from one room to the next as his son chases him around like an adoring puppy. Finally, he's able to tell his father that he earned a spot on what would become the historic Wiley College Debate Team. While he is happy with his son's accomplishment, Farmer Sr. reminds him not to let outside distractions impact his ultimate goal.
"Do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do," Farmer Sr. tells his son.
In many ways, this line of thinking can apply to many successful people in music, film, science, technology, education and business. It certainly applies to one of the fastest rising names in gospel music, Pastor Mike Jr. At 38 years old, Pastor Mike Jr. serves as the senior pastor of Birmingham's Rock City Baptist Church. When he's not preaching, he's creating music and working within his community. Not long ago, he won the "Best New Artist" award at the Sella Awards. While everything appears to be easy and fun for Pastor Mike Jr. now, he did a lot of work to get to this point.
Fifteen years ago, Pastor Mike Jr. wasn't Pastor Mike Jr. He was Mike McClure Jr., a young man preparing to marry his high school sweetheart while still making sense of the world around him.
"Fifteen years ago, I'm a kid getting ready to marry my high school sweetheart and we're dreaming about what the future holds," the rising Gospel star explained.
With his wife by his side and his beautiful children that would come along his journey, Pastor Mike Jr. put in the work to become the best person he could in and out of the church. However, music didn't come as quickly to him as many may think. As he explained, he was progressing in his ministry when a counselor suggested that he pursue music as a way to decompress from the daily stresses of being a resource for so many others.
"Here's the insight that nobody knows that I've never shared with anybody and I hope you catch this, man. I've always loved music but I didn't plan to go into the music industry. I was recording because one of my counselors asked me, 'how do I rinse?'" he said.
"He said, 'People dump on you every day. How do you get rid of all that?' He said, What's your hobby?' I said, 'I love music.' I went to the Guitar Center, bought a studio for my home and just start recording music. And that music became the music that launched my career. So for me, and I'm going to end on this, music is therapy."
Music has not only become therapeutic for Pastor Mike Jr., but it has also become a way for him to connect with others. In his words, he's able to preach through beats, vocals and rhymes.
"I had somebody tell me, "Pastor Mike, what's the difference between singing and preaching?" And I told him, I said, "I get a chance to preach over music with my messages or with my songs. And it's a melody with a message," he explained.
His melodies and messages have taken him to new heights each and every year. As mentioned previously, he won the "Best New Artist" award at the Stella Awards. More recently, he was spotted in the studio with Kirk Franklin.
"Man, what was it like being in the studio with Kirk Franklin? Well, we weren't working on any music. I just wanted the opportunity to just sit and gleam. And I think experience isn't the best teacher, it's the hardest teacher," he said about his experience working with the Gospel star.
Now, he's a featured act on the 15th Annual McDonald’s Inspiration Celebration Gospel Tour alongside amazing artists like L. Spenser Smith, Sir The Baptist, DOE, Jonathan Nelson and Bri Babineaux. Celebrating Gospel Heritage Month, the "Gospel City Playlists" themed virtual event will feature the brightest names in the genre from the DMV, West Coast, Carolinas and of course, the Gulf Coast. As one would imagine, Pastor Mike Jr. is pretty excited about representing his region.
"Representing the Gulf Coast this year is so incredible. I'm not even trying to be funny, but the playlist that you want to rock with is the Gulf Coast. I'm talking about myself, Sir The Baptist. Jonathan Nelson, DOE. Bri Babineaux and L. Spenser Smith. I know the west coast has DeWayne Woods, Erica Campbell, Israel Houghton, Mali Music and Dawkins & Dawkins. The Carolinas have Melvin Crispell III, Issac Carree, Tasha Cobbs, John P. Kee...Oh that's P, right there. But forget them. Don't nobody want to see y'all. I'm playing, man. We're excited about it and it's always good to have a friendly competition to just push the name of Jesus greater," he said with a smile on his face.
Pastor Mike Jr. will join his Gulf coast neighbors during the first stop on the tour on September 19 at 8 p.m. ET. Fans watch each stop on the virtual tour via BET's YouTube Channel and McDonald's app. Also, fans can support each artist on the tour by giving back to Ronald McDonald House Charities through their official website.
"It was so important for me to be a part of the McDonald's Inspiration Celebration Gospel Tour because of the heritage and the rich tradition of gospel music. Gospel music is the only genre of music where the message plus the melody equals a miracle. And in the midst of COVID, in the midst of corruption, to wear a mask, to not wear a mask, we need hope. And I wanted to be on the front line, I would like to call the essential list of artists who are going throughout the world, making an impact and bringing hope," he said as he reflected on the upcoming tour.
"And what better stage than do it than on one of the biggest stages in gospel music and the world, with McDonald's?"