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Spreading gospel of equality

EDITOR'S NOTE: During February, which is Black History Month, the Citrus Times has been publishing a series of profiles of African-American leaders. This is the final installment.

The Rev. David Houston, 58, has a vision for today's youth. He wants to see them unite despite their racial, ethnic and class differences. He wants them to know that the riches of the earth will not earn them eternal salvation. And he wants to help them come to a greater knowledge and appreciation for Jesus Christ.

"I don't care how smart you are. I don't care what your IQ is. You need J-E-S-U-S," Houston exclaimed during a recent Sunday morning service at the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Holder.

Houston graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1967 and attended Central Florida Community College. He has seen Citrus County change from a place ripe with discrimination to a larger and more welcoming community.

But there's still work to be done.

Total emancipation for all races has not been achieved, he said. "I encourage our kids, black or white, but especially the black kids: You've got to work twice as hard. We're always at a disadvantage to prove ourselves because there's a lot of discrimination in Citrus County."

Houston grew up in Hernando and has served as a custodian at Citrus Springs Elementary School for 20 years.

He was called to the ministry in April 1985, a year after his father, who pastored a Baptist church in Dunnellon and New Salem Missionary Baptist Church. Houston served as a deacon for a different Baptist church at the time, but picked up his father's routine by ministering at the Dunnellon church on the first and third Sundays and at the Holder church on the second and fourth Sundays.

On a recent Sunday morning, worshipers sang many praise choruses. Houston's resounding "Oh" led the congregation into several repeated versus of Blessed be the Rock. The choruses lacked an instrumental arrangement, but one choir member rattled a tambourine on the first and third beats.

Parishioners and Houston clapped, stomped and knocked the sides of the wooden pews. Others worshiped quietly, closing their eyes and lifting their hands in prayer.

Houston's sermon spoke directly to the youth. He warned them of the temptations of acquiring wealth and forgetting God's word.

"A fool and his money is soon to fall," Houston said of those who disobey their parents and ask for inheritance prematurely.

Houston, who lives in Inverness, hopes to retire from Citrus Springs Elementary in the next three years so he can pursue his ministerial duties full time. He says his mission is to unite people, live for the Lord and reach out to the hurting.

"The main thing is to get people united and to see churches grow regardless of color," Houston said.