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Story written by Rev. Dr. Avery Duff

I was born in Sept of 1960 in East St. Louis Illinois. It was a very interesting time,and difficult time, in East St. Louis.  We stayed on a street where we were one of the very few blacks in East St. Louis on the street I lived on.  I think my mom and dad, not sure if they did it on purpose, or they just loved us so much that they sheltered us.  We didn’t have very much experience dealing with racism.  The very few white people I came in contact with, worked at my mom’s job. One encounter was with a white man at Busch Stadium in the bleachers, we couldn’t sit anywhere else. I remember riding on the front of the train or the back of the bus.  I remember mom kept us sheltered. Daddy worked as a waiter at the hotels in St. louis. He was making $50 a week and took pretty good care of us. I had a strict father and a good family. Mom was a teller at Boatmen’s Bank in the 60’s. Our family started off with 2 sisters and a brother. I remind them that I am the oldest.  When I went away to school my mom had 3 more kids. She couldn’t wait to get me out. She adopted 2 girls and a boy. They are part of the family, she adopted them and changed their name and everything.

I went to school in Atlanta, to one of the black colleges.  I wanted to be a lawyer at first, but then I thought, basically, I didn’t want to do anything but go to church. The more I look at it, I always wanted to be a preacher.  I didn’t think I could be a preacher and a lawyer at the same time. I felt that calling on my life. Even then all I needed to do was be a preacher. That’s all I wanted to be.  My mom used to make us go to church every day. I remember promising Jesus that I would never go to church after I was 16. I guess today he’s saying “Who’s laughing now!”

During college, I got a degree in Business and went on to Seminary school. After I went back home, I went to church with a friend that I grew up with. I ended up pastoring his church in East St. Louis after he left.


When I first started pastoring, I felt that African Americans just didn’t know where to fit into society, not having a sense of belonging. They had always been demeaned and segregated. They have always been pushed down.  When you’ve been pushed down and beat down long enough you never saw the light at the end of the tunnel, you always hope for a better day but never did anything about it. I think they didn’t know how. I felt that it was up to me to show them how, that their tomorrow can be a better day.

I also used to think churches were afraid to engage in servitude.  But then, I don’t think we know how. I once asked my wife to do something for me and I got mad when she didn’t do it right.  It took me a little while to realize she didn’t know how to do it. I think that this is the same issue with the church. We are a reasonable facsimile thereof because we purely don’t know how, and change is difficult in the first place.

What my sermon “Tomorrow Will Be A Better Day” would sound like

It would come out of 2 Samuel 23:15

David was at war with the Philistines in Bethlehem and off the top of his head he nonchalantly said: “Man I would love to have a drink of that water from that Bethlehem well” … and the guys behind him, David’s mighty men hear him and didn’t say anything, but they knew what they had to do.  They fought through the enemies’ line and grabbed some water out of that well with a canteen, then they fought back through the enemies’ line and gave David that canteen of water.  David looked at them and said: “You went and got that for me”, and David poured it out as a sacrifice.

I think if we have that attitude that we should surround ourselves with people who can make us drink. Surround ourselves with mighty men that can help us see, even thought the enemy is in front us, it’s dark in front of us and we can fight our way through and grab what’s ours, it’s already ours, it’s already been promised to us. God’s always promised us to be more prosperous, not necessarily economically, but physically, spiritually, mentally he promised it would be better for us. Not just as a people, but as a culture, as a nation.  You should surround yourself with positive and powerful people chances are you’ll become one of them, if you’re not already one of them.


I may get in trouble for this.  I think men during my father’s time were stronger, mainly because they had to fight for what they got. They worked hard, these days I feel that we have become weak mentally and emotionally. Some men, these days, look for someone to give them something, I think that’s the difference. My dad didn’t have to brag because he was taking care of his family. Why brag about something you’re supposed to be doing in the first place. My dad took care of use and did what ever it took. I don’t think I heard my dad tell me he loved me once, I didn’t go and shoot up the country because he didn’t tell me that.  My dad would take the bunch of us and throw us in the back of his station wagon and take us to the park, or Six Flags. That’s the way he proved it, he would show us and spend time with us that’s all I needed.

I haven’t heard it from young boys and men of today, that they wish they fathers would have said they loved them. But I can see it, I can see the lack of it when I’ve seen them in court or behind bars. When a man doesn’t have any direction, he will reach for that bad thing, rather than the good things in life.

One of the reasons why the “DAD of ILLINOIS” initiative is very, very important to me because, I know a young man (I will not say any names) who got out of prison. He couldn’t get anything, start his own business like he wanted to. He couldn’t find a job, he felt that society as a whole had turned its back on him because he made this one mistake.  He felt that his only refuge was to go back to jail, he robbed a bank and went back to jail.  Where was I, where was the Church that we didn’t see this, that we couldn’t help him as he was making these horrible decisions 18 years prior and when he made the second horrible decisions?

We were busy having church, having Tea’s and White Annual Days, those sorts of things, we were busy doing that rather than seeing about the destructions, disturbance and discombobulation of our blacks in East St. Louis alone.

I have found some likeminded people to help me start “DADS of ILLINOIS”.  God has placed mighty men of God around me to help make a difference and start a few initiatives like: “Miracle House Transitioning Project” and the “Onesimus Program”. These programs will help men of all races get help to mainstream back into society. I know there have been many initiatives before and I know there are a lot of projects that are working well know.

Rev. Dr. Duff’s words of wisdom to men:

Never let what goes on around you control what goes on in you. That what’s in is more positive than any that you can imagine. You capable of doing the impossible.  All you have to is put your foot on the brim of the water and it will part.

One of Biblical heroes is Joshua, if there is anybody who had post-traumatic stress syndrome it would be him. The stuff that God told him to do is just too crazy for one man to do.  But Joshua obeyed the Lord and surrounded himself with the right people and he was able to concord.  God told Joshua to be strong and of good courage.  As I was with Moses, I’ll be with you and if you stay on the right path, I will give you good success.

I thought to myself what is good success? A million dollars is good success, but I have seen people who have a million dollars and not be happy, they have committed suicide.

From Gods perspective, good success is success with God in it.

Written by Pastor Avery Duff

You can find information about
Mount Zion Missions East Church


On Facebook: Mzmeast

DAD’s of Illinois: Contact Dr. Duff at 618-489-5266

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