When the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church celebrated its anniversary in November, it wasn’t surprising that the Reverend Raphael Warnock showed up — at least virtually.
“It also happens to be the 212th anniversary of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York City — a church that I served for some 10 years,” Warnock said in November.
It was at this renowned church where the new Georgia senator-elect got his start.
He worked there for a decade in the 90s under the Reverend Calvin Butts — long before he became the leader of the same church where Dr. Martin Luther King Junior preached.
“He could laugh easily. He could smile,” Butts told us this week. "That made it possible for him to impress upon people the importance of an issue.”
Warnock served as the youth minister and assistant pastor. He attended the Union Theological Seminary.
“We were dealing with issues within the African-American community about the use of derogatory language concerning Black women, about the use of the N-word,” Butts said. "I gave him an opportunity to lead there and lead he did.”
He spoke out against then Mayor Giuliani’s workfare program — where welfare recipients did city work in exchange for their benefits.
He told the New York Times in 1997, "We are concerned that poor people are being put into competition with other poor people, and in that respect, we think workfare is a hoax.’'
For much of his time at the Harlem church, he worked with youth.
Alvin Bragg, now a candidate for Manhattan District Attorney, knew Warnock in Harlem. He says the pastor followed the church’s activist tradition.
“The roots of them were there in Abyssinian,” Bragg said. "And he certainly helped plant those roots in me. It's a tradition that he helped continue and deliver and really made more accessible."
For those that knew him here, they say New York made an impression. As it usually does.
“I take nothing from Atlanta. I take nothing from Georgia,” Butts said. "But if you have your comeuppance in New York, you are ready for anything."