Senior Pastor and Founder of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago
Pastor James T. Meeks is the founder and senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, which has been recognized as one of the fastest growing megachurches in the United States. Salem is the largest African American church in Illinois with over 15,000 members.
In 2002, Pastor Meeks successfully ran for Illinois state senator. His win made him the first Independent legislator ever elected to the Illinois Senate. He served three terms, where his major focus was on educational equity. He has also served in positions of leadership including chair of the Education committee as well as joint chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. Pastor Meeks currently serves as Chairman, Illinois State Board of Education.
In 2005, Pastor Meeks led Salem in the building of the House of Hope, a $50 million, 10,000 seat community and worship center which is the largest facility built from the ground up for the purpose as a worship venue in the United States.
In 2008, Meeks formed a coalition of parents, students, pastors, educators, community advocates and other concerned interest groups, to highlight the inequities of education in the state. Known as Save Our Schools, Pastor Meeks led the group on a bold crusade which included having Chicago area students skip the official first day of school and instead, attempt to enroll in a wealthier, suburban school district. This daring move exposed the disparities in education along the lines of race and income, while raising the issue to such a high level where it forced dialogue and legislation on the issue.
Throughout his life, Pastor Meeks has served the needs of the people whether it was through legislation on the Senate floor, community organizing events in the streets of Chicago or from the pulpit every Sunday morning.
In 1998, he led a rally to “dry up” the Roseland community, which resulted in the closing of 26 liquor stores. He distributed 30,000 Bibles to residents in the church’s zip code. He provided every prisoner in the state with the Bible on cassette.
The list goes on and in his 38 years of ministry, Pastor Meeks has taken his message of hope and reform around the world including Israel, Africa, China, Jamaica, Argentina, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Australia.
He is the author of two books, “How To Get Out of Debt and Into Praise,” and “Life-Changing Relationships,” which have been received with critical acclaim.
Pastor Meeks and his wife, Jamell, are the proud parents of four children and four grandchildren.