A three-day celebration to honor the mission and work of Pastor Barrett included a gospel concert, banquet and church service.

CHICAGO—For the past 56 years, Pastor T.L. Barrett, Jr. has led The Life Center C.O.G.I.C. church community, which has been the base for his iconic life story that intertwines with the spiritual, cultural, and musical fabric of Chicago.

To mark the occasion, his community organized a three-day celebration April 26-28. The celebration, honoring both him and his wife, Cleopatra Barrett, started with a gospel concert at Life Center COGIC on April 26, followed by a banquet on April 27 and church service on April 28.

Pastor Barrett’s story is not just one of faith, but also of influence, and a profound commitment to the city’s youth and disenfranchised populations. He has indeed left an indelible mark on the community through his pastoral leadership, musical talents, and civic engagement, but retirement is not the end, but simply a new chapter.

“Everything that I have done that is ordered by God is my assignment. So, when God gives you an assignment, you should be fired up. It’s igniting,” explained Pastor Barrett during an exclusive Final Call interview. “So, it’s not a retirement, but a ‘refirement’ for my next assignment. I’m looking for another cosmic burst of energy,” he said.

National Assistant to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, Student Minister Ishmael Muhammad, delivered a message from the Minister to the Barrett’s at the April 27 banquet.

Born Thomas Lee Barrett Jr., he found his calling early in life, inspired by his father, a preacher. In the late 1960s, at a tender age, Barrett became the pastor of the Life Center Church of Universal Awareness, formerly known as Mount Zion Baptist Church. This marked the beginning of a journey that would see him become a beacon of hope and a pivotal figure in Chicago and beyond.

Under his leadership, the church became more than a place of worship; it transformed into a vital community center. Recognizing the challenges faced by the youth in Chicago, especially during times of economic hardship and social unrest, Pastor Barrett initiated programs aimed at improving their educational opportunities and social well-being.

Pastor Barrett’s influence extended into the realm of music, where he made an extraordinary impact. His album “Like a Ship (Without a Sail)” is a seminal work that blends gospel with soul, funk, and other musical genres, reflecting his innovative spirit and the cultural zeitgeist of the 1970s. The album, replete with uplifting messages and infectious energy, gained a cult following and, decades later, was rediscovered by new generations of listeners and acclaimed artists.

Student Minister Trevore Muhammad, son of Pastor Barrett

Ye (Kanye West) sampled “Father I Stretch My Hands,” from Barrett’s 1976 album “Do Not Pass Me By,” on his 2016 album “The Life of Pablo.” Barrett’s song “Like a Ship” plays over the closing credits of the 2022 documentary “jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy.” Also in 2016, Barrett’s music was used in the soundtrack to “Barry,” the film about U.S.

President Barack Obama. His musical endeavors provided a platform for youth engagement, as he involved young people from the community in his recordings and performances. This not only showcased their talents but also instilled a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Beyond the walls of his church and the recording studio, Pastor Barrett has been a vocal advocate for social justice. He has worked tirelessly to address issues such as poverty, discrimination, and inequality, often collaborating with other religious and civic leaders to effect change.

A significant aspect of Pastor Barrett’s journey has been his long-standing friendship with the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.

This alliance has fostered a deep dialogue between their respective congregations, promoting unity and understanding across diverse communities. Incidentally, it was a break from his Baptist roots while leading Mt. Zion that led to his connection with the National Representative of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Pastor Barrett explained.

The Barretts with their children, Pastoress Kisha Barrett and Pastor Torrey L. Barrett who will be leading the congregation of Life Center COGIC.

“In 1976, my theology became different from the fundamental theology of the Baptist church. They could not get with the new thought theology that I now believed, which was that God is not in the sky, but in your eye,” he said.

“When you see your brother and sister, you see God. That universal awareness caused me to embrace other religious leaders because I believe that God has a preacher for every creature. We respect all religions.”

The Minister was unable to attend the weekend celebration, but members of the Nation of Islam’s Shura Executive Council were present, including his National Assistant, Student Minister Ishmael Muhammad; Brother Leonard F. Muhammad, and National Protocol Director Abdul Ra’uf Muhammad.

“We are here on his behalf,” said Student Min. Ishmael as he addressed the roughly 500 in attendance at the banquet. “(You are) a brother that he loves and admires. For all your years of friendship and support of him, since he came to Chicago.”

Pastor T.L. Barrett and his wife Cleopatra Barrett

Student Min. Ishmael then read from a letter the Minister wrote to Pastor Barrett for the occasion: “As you know, there is no retirement for those who shepherd the people of God; the men that are called to God in his service. … I look forward to seeing you on the battlefield for liberation and justice for our people.

“To Cleopatra,” Student Min. Ishmael continued, “we thank you for the sacrifices you have made to give us your husband and the beautiful children that you have produced that now have to shoulder a great responsibility and sit in that seat and saddle, but dad is still going to be there–overlooking, watching and making sure that things go as they should go.”

“One of the greatest lectures that the Minister had made was from Life Center Church. The monumental one that he delivered was ‘True Christian Love.’ Muslims and Christians alike love that message that Farrakhan delivered that day,” Minister Ishmael commented. The lecture was delivered March 21, 1985.

He leaves the church in the hands of his daughter, Pastoress Kisha Barrett, and his son, Pastor Torrey L. Barrett. As Pastor Barrett’s journey continues, his life remains a testament to the power of relentless positivity and the impact one individual can have on their community.

In a world often divided by differences, his work exemplifies how faith and compassion can bridge divides and foster a sense of unity and purpose. Through his ongoing efforts, Pastor T.L. Barrett Jr. not only preaches a message of love and redemption but lives it, making his life’s work a beacon of hope for many.

“What a beautiful man my father is and what a beautiful woman my mother is. We (the Barrett children) have been blessed with a beautiful childhood because of some beautiful (Life Center Church) members.

I thought about how we could honor our pastor in his retirement, by retiring ourselves. We should retire from anything and everything that is not pleasing to God,” said his son, Trevore Muhammad, a student minister in the Nation of Islam.