Rev. Dr. Evelyn Graves was born in Marion, South Carolina, and she always proudly acknowledged her birthplace. However, from the time she moved to Philadelphia, her heart belonged here. She was very much an integral part of the faith community of Pennsylvania, and a lifelong contributor to helping to lift-up Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania in many positive ways. Through teaching and preaching the word of God for 50 years and by being a community activist/developer in Southwest Philadelphia for much of that time, she became a respected, well-beloved and admired figure in Philadelphia and anywhere she traveled to preach God’s Word.
Evelyn was born on July 11, 1934, to the late Jethro and Alice Williams. She was the last surviving child of her 10 siblings from their parents’ wonderful union. At an early age, she accepted the Lord as her personal Savior, and she faithfully attended church and Christian-led activities, from revivals to conventions, all the while learning more about God, the Bible, and to see what it was that God had for her to do as she found her place in life.
Evelyn was joined in holy matrimony to the love of her life, John Wesley Graves, in 1952. He preceded her in death in 2008. From this union were born six beautiful children, gingerly nurtured in Southwest Philadelphia on Divinity Street.
In her early days in Philadelphia, the family gained spiritual fortitude from Calvary Baptist Church, Mt Zion Pentecostal Church, and Miracle Temple under the tutelage of Rev. R. W. Shambach.
Dr. Graves was employed by Mercy Douglass Hospital, delightfully serving in the communications and medical records departments, until the doors of the hospital, a staple in Southwest Philadelphia, closed in 1973. While employed at Mercy Douglass, the call of God to empower the community was birthed. Dr. Graves opened her home 24 hours a day to help nurture local youth and adults in preservation efforts culturally and spiritually, often providing bus trips designed to broaden the horizon of participants, which ultimately helped to pave the way for individual and collective successes for many people that she assisted. She utilized her gift from God of artistic abilities to help convince gang members in the 1960’s and 70’s to stop gang wars. She worked with people who had drug or alcohol addictions. She also worked on the societal blight in Southwest Philadelphia, all while raising six well-adjusted children.
In 1971, Dr. Graves powerfully trailblazed the way by establishing and actively fortifying Evelyn Graves Drama Productions, followed by 37 programs, including Evelyn Graves Ministries Church, Day Care Center, Academy, Summer Day Camp in Philadelphia and Yeadon, PA, and The House of Prayer in Marion, South Carolina. These non-profit humanitarian programs provided spiritual enrichment and preservation through cultural arts, education, mentoring, childcare, employment opportunities and engaging half a million underserved families nationwide. Some of the venues for Evelyn Graves Drama Productions and the award-winning choir performed included churches and recreation centers from Philadelphia to California, the historic Philadelphia Academy of Music, universities, cathedrals, festivals, the state capital in Harrisburg, Seoul, South Korea, the Eastern and Western Caribbean, 35 states and eight countries. The sincere, godly, charismatic leadership and artistic abilities of Dr. Evelyn Cassandra Graves made doors open for her— and for her production company over the years.
Dr. Graves, inspired by family and the community, fueled weekly leadership engagements promoting healthy lifestyles, violence prevention training, performing arts workshops and training, nine months of Accelerated Christian Education. She opened the Academy in 1981 (Pre-12th Grade) because of three words: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.
Evelyn Graves Drama Productions and Evelyn Graves Ministries Church, both non-profit organizations, celebrated over 50 years of history in the cultural and performing arts arena, in December of 2021. Over her lifetime, she wrote seventeen beautifully written dramatic, multidiscipline theatre pieces. Her repertoire included some of the musical work of George Gershwin and poetry of Langston Hughes. Executive Artistic Director, Dr. Evelyn Graves was also always quick to welcome and display creative emerging artists. That’s what she did. Trinity Broadcast Network (WGTW) broadcast interviews with Dr. Graves, and also featured one of the company’s original productions of “Behold the Man’’ (the story of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ) to a television viewing audience of three million homes.
As a quiet, systemic, hands-on trailblazer, Dr. Graves fueled many organizations, from startup programs to successful, established institutions, and she did it all with love, wise counsel and other support mechanisms.
Her educational pursuits included Grambling State University, Jameson Bible Institute, and United Theological Seminary, where she received doctorates in Philosophy and Divinity. She also earned certifications from The Christian Businessmen Association and the Hampton University Ministers Conference. She enjoyed attending the National Baptist Conventions, along with the Church of God in Christ conventions, regularly. While Dr. Graves’ vocation as a pastor, artist and educator were the cornerstone of what God gave her to do, she also graciously developed powerful entrepreneurial skills. Recognized as a pioneer in creative community pursuits, she received over 200 humanitarian awards, acknowledgments and citations from state and local government, including Pa. State Senator Anthony H. Williams, Pa. State Rep. Joanne McClinton, Pa. State Rep. Louise Williams Bishop, National Association of Clergy Women, the Shirley Chisholm Award, the Mary McLeod Bethune Award, the NAACP Legend Award, the Pa. Council on the Arts, a WURD Radio recognition, an International Ambassador Award from Seoul, South Korea, and recognitions from both President William J. Clinton and President Barack Obama in 2015.
With the support of Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell in 2016, Dr. Graves received the honor of having a portion of Woodland Avenue, renamed as “Dr. Evelyn Graves Way.” The Evelyn Graves Ministries Church and Evelyn Graves Drama Productions stabilization efforts in the community for over five decades empowered generations of food insecure families, providing necessities including food, housing, spirituality, preservation, education, employment, and hope in targeted areas of West and Southwest Philadelphia and Delaware County, up until this day.
At the age of 87, Dr. Evelyn C. Graves’ mission continued. Her iconic, inspirational artistry was on display half-way around the world through a couple of her productions — one in Israel in 2016 and another in South Africa in 2020.
The legacy Dr. Graves started on “crazy faith,” has continuously served over 900 families in Delaware County and Philadelphia monthly since 2012 with life sustaining humanitarian support, including 97,200 youth and adults. Evelyn Graves Ministries Church and Evelyn Graves Drama Productions will carry on the amazing legacy and work started by Dr. Graves, with active projects at 55th and Chester Avenue in Philadelphia, and at 1115 Whitby Avenue, in Yeadon. Her steadfast dream of building a multi-mixed housing complex and cultural wellness center at 51st and Woodland Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia continues.
Dr. Evelyn Graves is survived in death by: Six adult children: Four daughters, Melinda, Cassandra, R. Jean, Renee, and two sons, John, and Derrick, and her faithful dedicated caretaker, Shirley Mae Tyson.
The official arrangements for a home-going service for Dr. Graves are as follows:
Sunday Feb. 13, 2022 3:00p.m.-6:00p.m.: Evelyn Graves Ministries Church, 1115 Whitby Ave., Yeadon, PA 19050.
Monday Feb. 14, 2022 Viewing 8:00a.m.-10:00a.m., Homegoing 10:00a.m.: The Church of Christian Compassion, 6121 Cedar Ave., Philadelphia PA 19143.
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