Profiles of Pastoring in Northside

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Rev. Michael A. Cousin: The Storyteller

Remembering the Journey:

My co-worker Kathy Atwater and I had a chance to sit down with the new Pastor of St. Paul A.M.E Church located on the corner of W. Franklin and Merritt Mill Rd. Rev. Cousin was appointed to St. Paul in the fall of 2017. What a pleasure it was to spend time with him and listen as he recalls his life in the ministry.

“My journey has been about adjustments. I grew up in Durham, moved to Birmingham, Alabama, North Carolina, going to school in Boston. I was able to make the adjustments, helping people adjust and deal with adjustments.”

Rev. Cousin has been in the ministry for 37 years starting out Pastoring a small church in Troy, Alabama. He comes from a family of men called by God to spread the Good News of the Gospel. “I went to school to go into law but I just couldn’t see myself stretching the truth. By stretching the truth, you learned to bend your words but if it’s not the truth then it’s just not the truth, and there is nothing I could do with that. So I finally went on and answered the call to preach.”

His three brothers are pastors and his father is a Bishop. Rev. Cousin shared with us how his grandmother and grandfather served as domestic help until his grandmother saved enough money to attend Shaw and get her masters degree. His grandfather served as a butler in Winston-Salem and worked for the Hanes family. Yes, that’s right Hanes! The name that’s on undershirts, underwear, and clothing apparel. “They treated us like family.” Cousin said. They would invite us to their house, include us in family pictures.” He smiled as he began to remember: “Every Christmas they would send us a pack of underwear. I would go to school and say, (laughing out loud as he spoke), look I got this from the Hanes family. People wearing Fruit of the loom…, but I would say, naw it’s Haines.” 

Rev. Cousin’s favorite scripture is Romans 12:21 “Do not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good.” He says, “In this world it so easy to become desensitized, tainted and corrupt, and we sometimes make excuses and say it’s the world that did this to us, but no, if we have the love of God in us we should be transformers. We’re not thermometers, we’re thermostats. When you go into a room your countenance should change the atmosphere.”

Rev. Cousin believes that if the world lived according to the word of God it would truly be heaven on earth. He explained how when he was living in Detroit if somebody asked you for some money you would just look at them. Somebody would say, “brother can you spear some change?” Cuz everybody’s hustling, Cousin says. “Then I move here and I’m sitting in my car talking to my brother and this man taps on the window asking for .50, cuz he’s gotta get on the bus. I’m just looking at him thinking you ain’t gonna get on no bus; but I had .50 so I gave it to him. I said sarcastically to him to my brother, “he’s talking about he’s gonna get on the bus.” I sat in my car and watched him. When the bus came he got on the bus and left. I said to my brother surprisingly, “he actually used that money for what he said he was gonna use it for.” I felt bad. I had become desensitized. Cousin believes moving back south has made him a better person. “I’m trying to walk that scripture again. Being good, talking to people. I meditate on that scripture. It’s important to have a compassionate spirit” he says.

Rev Cousins is someone you truly enjoy being in the presence of! He is full of laughter and so many stories of his connections with the communities in which he pastored. He told one story after another in his jovial way that made us laugh all the harder.

Nene and the Rat:

Rev. Cousin’s church was having a Lock-In for the youth but it had to be canceled because there was a rat in the church, a big rat, so big it would set off the motion detectors. Nine-year-old Nene along with her sister and friend approach Rev. Cousin. Now, you have to know something about Nene. Nene was rough, Nene had attitude and Nene wasn’t afraid of anything! She said to Rev. Cousin (with attitude), “Rev. Cousin why you ain’t havin that Lock-In, we gonna be in the church havin a good time.” Cousin replied, “Well we got a problem.”  

With her head tilted to the side, Nene said, “What kinda problem you got?” Rev. Cousin said, “There’s a rat in the building and we’re concerned about your safety so we canceled the Lock-in.” Nene gives him a look as if to say, you’re kidding…, you’re gonna stop our good time because of a rat. Nene responds, “A rat, IS THAT IT? We ain’t scared of no rat, we ain’t scared…, we kill them all the time, you want me to kill it for you? Where they at?” 

No, Rev. Cousin didn’t let Nene kill the rat but he was really surprised that at nine years of age she would have if he had let her. Nene was not afraid!

The Purse Snatcher:

There was a young man named Clayton who snatched a lady’s purse and ran off. A man from the church ran after him and brought him back. Rev. Cousins recognizes him and says “Clayton, Clayton did you steal that women’s purse?” Pastor, you know me, I didn’t take that women’s purse, I didn’t take no purse! Meanwhile, someone goes around the corner and tells Clayton’s brother they got Clayton around the corner at the church saying he stole a lady’s purse. Now, in Detroit if you are wearing one of those big puff jackets, a skull cap, and dope boy shoes you’re not one to be messed with, and that’s exactly what Clayton’s brother was wearing!

Clayton’s brother comes around the corner and sees his brother being restrained. He says to Rev. Cousin in a threatening tone, “You got my brother…?” Rev. Cousin says calmly, “Yeah, he stole a purse and we’re calling the police to sort this thing out.”  “Oh, y’all called the police?” Clayton’s brother says in that same threatening tone, Oh, alright, wait till I come back.” Rev. Cousin knew this situation was not a good one. His Edge, as he called it (something you develop living in the inner city, being very much aware of things going on around you, being able to recognize dangerous situations—and this was one of them) had kicked in.  Rev. Cousin was chuckling as he told the story but at the time it was happening he wasn’t. He said with a concerned voice—concerned about what was going to happen when Clayton’s brother comes back around that corner; “Y’all better let that man go, take him and let him go; Rev. Cousin says—and they did. They didn’t want any dealings with Clayton’s brother.

About a week or two later, Nene comes to Rev. Cousin with a family member who needed help because her house was firebombed and the only thing the family member had left were the clothes on her back. Nene new the Rev. would help her. Rev. Cousin, with the help of the church, collected some items for this family member and when he went to Nene’s house to drop the items off, guess who walks in the door! The man with the big puff jacket and skull cap. Yes, Clayton’s brother, whose name we now know is Nino. Nino sees the Rev. and the Rev. sees Nino. Rev. Cousin said, “AH, you wanted to shoot me last week, you wanna shoot me now?” Nino says, “Naw Rev. Naw, Naw I’m sorry…, we alright.” And from that time on Rev. Cousin was respected in the neighborhood. Because of Rev. Cousin’s compassion to help people, and his
Edge, Rev. Cousin made friends instead of foes.

The Drug Addict and the Cigars:

Rev. Cousin lived in Ft. Lauderdale for a little while. He described it as a strange place but he didn’t give any details as to why it was a strange place.  Rev. Cousin shared how he liked to smoke cigars and decided to order some. He was told by the church members he couldn’t get parcel deliveries in the area because they would get stolen. Rev. Cousins didn’t believe them so he ordered them anyway. After waiting for about two weeks he realized he hadn’t received his cigars. “Boy this is long, are they gonna bring my stuff?” he wondered. He goes outside and begins to look around thinking maybe they had delivered them and hid them somewhere. He looks across the street. He notices Billy sitting in the yard smoking a cigar. He yells out to Billy. “Hey Billy, how you doing? Billy yells back, “Hey Rev come on across the street” in a tone that was inviting so Rev. Cousin proceeded across the street. When he gets over there, he asked, “Billy you smoke cigars?” “Yeah I got some cigars, some good ones here,” Billy said. While Billy is sitting reared back in the chair puffing on the cigar, Rev. Cousin is looking at him. Billy starts talking about how he had done time. Rev. Cousin asked him what did he do time for. Cousin is thinking he’s gonna say something like a burglary; Billy says, “Oh I was in for murder” as he puffs out a stream of smoke from the cigar. Rev. Cousin says, “You were in for murder?” Billy replies, “Yeah, I was, but I got out on a technicality.”  Rev. Cousin says under his breath, “Oh Lord.” Then he says to Billy, “you know Billy, those are some good cigars, I ordered some a few weeks ago, I’m still waiting on mine, where did you get yours from?” Billy says, “Well you know Rev there’s this crack head and she needed some money, she had these good cigars.” Rev. Cousin says, “Darn Billy, I think, I think these my cigars man! Y’all stole my cigar!” Then Rev. Cousin remembered Billy was in prison for murder and changes his tone of voice and tells Billy in a calm manner “enjoy those cigars man.” Rev. Cousin and Billy shared cigars and became friends and nobody bothered the church or him after that. Once again his Edge kicked in! 


Rev. Cousin has so many other great memories of the places and people he’s met over the years. Like, the church member and the Publishers Clearing House check, why he loves to bowl but doesn’t bowl anymore, the fight on the front lawn of the church! I smile as I remember hearing him tell the stories. Rev. Cousin is one of a kind! 

“It’s ok to be friendly and talk to people. How you present yourself matters. Having a spirit of compassion and giving is very important.” Taking the time to talk and interact with people who may not attend church could develop into wonderful relationships.” Cousin says.

Rev. Cousin has built many friendships with people outside the four walls of the church by being non-judgmental and not afraid to interact with people who may never enter into a church.  

During his time in the ministry, he has met and kept in touch with his new-found friends. He has been instrumental in their lives and says, “It’s great to see them turn their lives around!” People should be able to tell you are a preacher not by your collar but by how you conduct yourself.”

Matthew 25:37-40 “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

                                                                                 – Yvonne Cleveland (Jackson Center Staff Member)

The March edition of our Northside News centered on the church pillar of community. In addition to meeting the pastors of the historically Black churches in Northside/Pine Knolls, this issue explored themes of faith and love, fears associated with your calling, and historical roots of Black resilience. The above blog post is one of four pastor profiles written by Ms. Kathy Atwater and Ms. Yvonne Cleaveland. Check back next week to see which pastor will be highlighted next!

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