By John Ramos

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — The congregation at Glide Memorial Methodist Church, a ray of hope in the Tenderloin District for over 50 years, wished the church’s founder a very special happy birthday on Sunday morning.

The morning’s services were even more colorful than usual as the choir arrived, happily wearing the signature dashiki robes that Rev. Cecil Williams often wore when he preached.

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“Because I know what it feels like on me and for the whole ensemble to be experiencing the love and the prophetic energy that is sewn into these robes,” Rev. Marvin White, the church’s Minister of Celebration, told the assembly.

As the choir broke into its version of “Happy Birthday to You,” it was a celebration of 90 years of a life spent serving the less fortunate. When he first arrived in the Tenderloin in 1963, Rev. Williams was seen as a radical and later a civil rights leader, and eventually as a humanitarian. His church became a refuge for the people society had left behind.

“Our struggles become his struggles…people just don’t know it, right?” said Tommy Davis, sitting in his wheelchair on the sidewalk out front. “That’s why he built the church and he does what he does, you understand? Because he wants everybody to know that there’s somebody out there that cares.”

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Along the way, Rev Williams has become a celebrity himself, exalted by the the rich and powerful. But Janice Mirikitami, his wife and the church’s co-founder, says he has never lost sight of his mission.

“He’s always been on the street. He’s always kept his feet on the ground,” she said. “He’s never elevated himself above anybody else. He’s always told everybody, ‘You have power.’ And he uses his power in order to empower others.”

Over the years, as Rev. Williams has slowed down, others have carried on the programs he started to help the poor. And now, at age 90, he remains a man who has risen to great heights by devoting his life to those at the bottom.

“I’ve always talked about changing the world,” Rev. Williams said. “And I really believe that we have touched many people from all over the world.”

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Following the two morning services, the party moved to a nearby park where, not surprisingly, people from the street were welcomed to join the birthday celebration.