The Rev. Dr. Clarence Norman, Sr. was born April 30, 1930 in Goldsboro, North Carolina, to the late Viola Archer, a single parent. His formative years growing up in the South were difficult, as he had to face the challenges of segregation and blatant racism. In 1945, he and his mother migrated to Brooklyn, New York where, upon his arrival, he immediately joined a local church and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
As a teenager, he attended George Westinghouse High School, where he was told that he was not college material and the best thing he could do career wise, was to find a job in a local factory. Undeterred, he enrolled at Wilberforce University and, while attending the university, his involvement in his church’s activities continued to grow and his gift of oratory became widely known throughout Brooklyn. That led to a small group of Christian workers, eager to find a pastor for their newly established church, First Baptist Mission of Williamsburg, to contact him. Although not yet ordained, they asked him to serve as their temporary pastor for one year. Upon being ordained, and after witnessing his leadership ability and preaching prowess, the congregation renewed his contract for another year, and officially voted him as their permanent pastor the following year.
As a spiritual leader pastoring a growing congregation, Rev. Norman never lost sight of the need to be academically credentialed. He aggressively pursued his higher education and received a Bachelor of Arts in 1959, from Bloomfield College in Bloomfield, New Jersey; a Master’s of Divinity in 1964, from Howard University in Washington, D.C. He also attended St. John’s University (1968-1969) in Jamaica, New York, for Graduate Study in Public Administration, and was awarded State Certification as Principal of Secondary School.
As the degrees and academic achievements of Rev. Norman grew during his young pastorate, so did his congregation. From the original twenty members who founded First Baptist Church of Crown Heights in June 1953, the church now boasts well over 2,000 members. The church’s growth was a direct result of Rev. Norman’s powerful, insightful, and relevant messages that resonated with those privileged to hear him. He was known for sermons that made people feel like he was speaking directly to them and to their situations. In particular, people enjoyed hearing his “Normanism”, such as…”don’t sweat the small stuff”,
it’s better to be kind than to be right”, or “you can have everything you want, but you can’t have it all at the same time”. His ministry was indeed transformative and helped many people navigate difficult challenges in their lives.
Another reason for the church’s robust growth was Rev. Norman’s vision of the mission of the Black church. While emphasizing the need for the church to be a Bible based, Christ centered institution that brings individuals closer to God, he also felt it had the unique mission of serving as a vehicle for the liberation of its members from the throes of economic, social and political deprivation.
It was with this in mind that led him to establish the Local Development Corporation of Crown Heights, Inc. (LDCCH) in 1987. During the course of its existence, the LDCCH has made manifest Rev. Norman’s belief that “we are our brothers and sisters’ keepers”. The LDCCH has built or renovated over 660 units of affordable housing in Crown Heights, including the construction of three senior citizen residential apartment buildings. Additionally, it has founded, sponsored and managed numerous programs such as Meals on Wheels, senior citizen centers, a Minority and Women owned business revolving loan fund, a computer training and job development center, youth educational initiatives, housing assistance for displaced families, scattered-site housing for people living with HIV/AIDS, and numerous others.
Rev. Norman also understood the necessity of developing political relationships that could support and assist his efforts in serving his community. It was widely known that if anyone aspired to run for public office and hoped to be successful, they had to come and see Rev. Norman, and ask for his blessings. Over the years, political luminaries such as Former First Lady Hillary Clinton, Mayor Bill deBlasio, Attorney General Letitia James, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams, former Governor Mario Cuomo, former Mayor David N. Dinkins, former State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, and scores of local elected officials and political aspirants have graced the pulpit of First Baptist Church to shake Rev. Norman’s hand. At one point in time, First Baptist members simultaneously held the position of Brooklyn Democratic County Leader, New York State Assembly Member for the 43rd A.D., New York State Senator for the 20th S.D., four district leaderships, and three New York State Supreme Court judgeships; making First Baptist Church one of the most politically influential churches in New York State.
Notwithstanding all of his academic, professional and community achievements, Rev. Norman felt that his greatest blessing in life was his family. He constantly reminded his congregation of the importance of never allowing anything to take precedence over one’s family because, “in the end, all we have is family”.
Rev. Norman was a multifaceted and caring individual with extensive training and commitment in areas that affected our community. In addition to serving as pastor of First Baptist Church of Crown Heights, Rev. Norman has served as Protestant Chaplain for the State of New York Division of Parole; Chaplain for the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation; Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College; Chairman of the Orange Housing Authority, Orange, New Jersey; three terms as a Democratic County Committeeman in Orange, New Jersey; and Chairman of the First Baptist Church of Crown Heights Housing Development Corporation.
Because of his deep commitment to the youth of the community, Rev. Norman has also served as Director of the John Edward Bruce Day Care Center; Social Studies teacher, Dean, and Assistant Principal at the Whitelaw Reid Junior High School; and as Social Studies teacher at the Nathaniel Macon Junior High School. Moreover, he was employed as a Food Program Specialist for the United States Department of Agriculture, which dealt specifically with child nutrition programs and food stamps compliance.
In addition to his professional achievements and education, Rev. Norman received numerous special awards and honors. Among them, the 1969-1970 Parish Ministry Fellowship by the Fund for Theological Education, Princeton, New Jersey; Recipient of the First Annual Ecumenical Award from the National Conference of Christian and Jews, May 9, 1984; and a certificate as accredited Resident Manager by the Institute for Real Estate Management, in 1985; In June 2002, Ebony Magazine honored Rev. Norman as a “great Black father” at an award luncheon for distinguished fathers and sons who have followed their paths.