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Bayou Icon | Reverend Ike Byrd, III

By Nathan Coker
In Bayou Icon
Jan 31st, 2024
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article by Georgiann Potts
photography by Kelly Moore Clark

Just about everyone who knows Rev. Ike Byrd, III has something good to say about him and his work at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Monroe, West Monroe, and Ouachita Parish. Rev. Byrd is a compassionate man, committed to his faith and his family – and to the quest for unity among us all during these turbulent times. Although as a young fellow he had dreams of becoming a professional football player or an electrical engineer, God had other plans. Because of his lifelong commitment to working toward making a brighter future for generations to come and because of his 27 years of faithful pastoral work, Rev. Ike Byrd, III is our February 2024 Bayou Icon.

When talking with Rev. Ike Byrd III, it doesn’t take long to realize just what a happy, dedicated fellow he is. Byrd is comfortable with his life, absolutely committed to his work, and determined to do whatever he can – wherever and however he can — to make lives here better for everyone. As pastor of the Mount Zion Baptist Church, Byrd is always busy caring for his flock, building and maintaining relationships, and finding ways to give comfort – material and spiritual — to those in need.

Looking back over his life, Byrd remembers that working in a church was not always his career goal. Even so, Byrd also remembers being told by his pastor Dr. A.T. White when Byrd was just a young child that White believed “. . . that the Lord had a call upon my life and that one day I would be a preacher.”

To understand Byrd’s path to the pastorate, it is important to discover where he came from and who most influenced his life. That journey was not always easy, but it was always filled with love and faith.

A Blended Family
Ike Byrd, III was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and lived with his parents in Kenner for a few years. His father, Ike Byrd, Jr. was from the Loamland community in Tensas Parish. His mother, Ruby Mae Hunter was from Clayton. When Byrd’s parents divorced, he moved with his mother to Clayton where his grandmother Mollie Lee lived.

After time, both of Byrd’s parents married others. Byrd loved the blended family that evolved. His mother and stepmother became close friends as did his father and stepfather. The two men taught Byrd the importance of work. Although both have passed away, Byrd remembers them both with love. 

It was Byrd’s mother who gave him the Christian foundation of worshipping and serving God. She taught all of her children to recognize the gifts that God had given them and to use those gifts to glorify Him. She understood God’s gifts at a very personal level. When she was 15, Byrd’s mom became ill and doctors told her that she would never be able to have children. “By the grace of God, I am one of 9 children that my mother gave birth to. I was the only son, and I had 8 sisters,” Byrd explains.  His younger sister Ranessa passed away a few years ago. Today five of his sisters are older than he and two are younger. Byrd insists that even though he was the only boy, he was not spoiled growing up. “On the contrary, all of my sisters in their own individual way helped me to become the man that I am today,” Byrd adds with a smile. “All of my sisters are extremely active in serving the Lord and His people, and three are in the ministry.”

Childhood Memories
Byrd remembers his childhood revolving around family and the church. These two were his greatest joys. “We weren’t wealthy, but we didn’t know we were poor because everyone in our little community shared what they had,” he remembers. “I sang in the choir from the time that I knew what singing was!”

Byrd spent many happy times with his maternal grandmother, Mollie Lee. She lived near Clayton and next door to the Mullins, a Caucasian family. The Mullins had 3 children who were Byrd’s frequent playmates – either at his grandmother’s home or at the Mullins’. “During those years I learned not to make perceptions of people based on the color of their skin. Even at times when there were acts of racism, unrest, and bigotry around us, we never allowed that to cause divisions between us,” Byrd explains.

Byrd’s father’s family owned an 80+ acre farm in Tensas Parish where the young boy got to enjoy horses, cows, pigs and tractors.  In Clayton, Byrd was surrounded by his mother’s large family and he remembers that there was always something going on. A special memory was the way they would all gather on Sundays after church to eat and talk together.

Byrd attended Clayton Elementary, but went to junior high and high school in Ferriday. He enjoyed many things, especially when public speaking and singing were involved. His mother kept him busy in a number of school, church, and community activities. Early on, Byrd loved science and math. He loved the science experiments and working with numbers. “I loved algebra!” Byrd says. “Even after I went to college, algebra was easy. I tutored algebra for several semesters.”

It was his cousin, James Lee, who introduced Byrd to Scouting. Lee was the Scoutmaster. “I loved Scouting. Even today I remember the Scout motto (“Be Prepared”) and the Scout slogan (“Do a Good Turn Daily”),” Byrd says. “James believed in those words and pressed upon us the importance of applying them to our lives. These words have been instrumental in shaping my life.”

College Days and First Career
Three of his siblings had attended Northeast Louisiana University (now ULM) so Byrd enrolled there, too. He initially thought he would major in radiological technology. He was part of the Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) thinking he might have a career in the military. Neither of those worked out, but he became increasingly involved in Christian activities. God’s plan for Byrd was being worked out slowly.

Byrd had always worked, beginning at an early age working with his father. His dad took him to work on electrical jobs, and because he also owned a dump truck business, he let Byrd ride along on those jobs, too. During high school, Byrd worked in a hardware store. His stepfather worked for a natural gas pipeline company, so during the summers Byrd would work with him learning how to cut right-aways and paint line stations.

After college, Byrd began working as a laborer at Sunbelt Plastics. He worked his way up to managing the shipping and receiving department, spending 20 years with Sunbelt before he retired in 2004.

Along the Way, Love Happens
While Byrd was working his way upward at Sunbelt, love happened. The first time he saw Angela Denise Ellis she was walking near where her sister lived. Byrd noticed her, but didn’t ask her out. Sometime later, Byrd saw Angela again and invited her and others to his birthday party. She accepted, and they began dating. “I actually asked her mother if I could marry her a couple of months after we began dating,” Byrd says. “Her mother laughed and said I could.”

One month after asking Angela’s mother for permission to marry, the couple married. There was little time, but the families got together with members of the church where Angela attended to make it happen. On January 1, 1988, they began their life together. Over time, Byrd and Angela had 3 children, Aneishia, Andrae, and Iketria. All three graduated Neville High School and have active careers of their own.

Just 10 years into their marriage, one night Byrd asked Angela how she would feel being married to a preacher. He could no longer deny his destiny. “She was speechless,” Byrd says. “Our children were frightened beyond belief.” Byrd quickly adds that the entire family adapted – and thrived. “I believe that wives are called into the work of ministry along with their husbands. Wives are to pastors what Angelo Dundee was to Cassius Clay,” Byrd explains. “They’re the ones in the corner when their husbands come home after being hit by the many blows that come with the ministry. Angela has been my Dundee.”

Life and Love Continue
When the two aren’t working (Angela teaches 3rd grade math at Sallie Humble Elementary), they can often be found in the kitchen cooking together. Both love cooking, with Byrd especially enjoying experimenting with new dishes to which he adds his special Southern flavor. They share a number of other interests – movies, traveling, and spending quiet time with family and friends. After they married, their first family vacation was to Detroit and across Canada to Niagara Falls.

The travel “bug” first bit Byrd when he was a junior in high school. His sister Molly and her husband Robert were living in Detroit and took Byrd back home with them for a visit. ‘I had never been anywhere outside of Louisiana, but that summer I had the time of my life!” Byrd says. “I honestly fell in love with traveling. We spent time on the beach and had a picnic over in Canada. That was my first taste of pizza or Asian food. I was hooked.”

Of all of his travels, Byrd says that two trips to Kenya are his favorite travel experiences. He went with some of his closest ministry friends to Chembulet, a village just outside of Nairobi. “These were the most memorable trips that I’ve ever taken. The people were absolutely amazing – not because they are overflowing with the creature comforts of this world, but because they celebrate and everything that God has blessed them with,” Byrd explains. A third trip had to be canceled because of COVID.

That trip was not the only thing that had to be changed because of the pandemic. Byrd – together with everyone else – had to quickly adapt. He needed to find new ways to “connect” with his flock. It was very hard to go into church on Sunday mornings and preach, but there was no visible audience. It was even harder not being able to visit families who were experiencing trauma. “Ministry is more relational than anything else, and to lose that relational aspect because of social distance/quarantine/isolation created a wound that I pray will heal,” Byrd explains. “At the same time, we were able to learn different means to minister. FaceBook allowed me to connect with people from all across the country – even with folks stationed overseas. Frankly, I think COVID has helped me appreciate the gift of life and ministry all the more.”

Work at Mount Zion and Beyond
Byrd has been pastor at Mount Zion Baptist church for years. The church is well-known for an amazing list of ministries that impact thousands. Many of these have been in place for a very long time, but there are three that Byrd is especially thankful to have begun there through a combination of his vision and the Lord’s guidance. “Our Feast of Hope ministry prepares food and feeds the homeless population in our community. Our Senior Saints ministry is a fellowship for senior members of our church and the community. Begun years ago by partnering with the Ouachita Council on Aging, when that partnership ended the church decided to continue it,” Byde explains. “The third is Koinonia which began as the first men and women retreat hosted by an African American church – ours. It moves throughout the community, transforming lives and celebrating eternal relationships.”

It is difficult to comprehend all of the many areas in the community that have benefited from Byrd’s efforts. He began working with the United Way over 40 years ago. Through that association, he became aware of other community agencies about which he knew nothing. The Twin City Community Welfare, the Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity – all have been impacted by his work. Today he is serving as a member of several boards: the Mount Pleasant Community Development Corporation, the United Way of Northeast Louisiana, St. Francis Hospital, and the Monroe Chamber of Commerce. He also works with the Ouachita Workforce 81 Board to help mentor young people.

Not surprisingly, Byrd had been recognized many times for his leadership. Among the many awards that he has received is the Annual Barack Obama Award for service and support of Granny Goins Soup Kitchen that was given by Martin Luther King Foundation. He has been listed as one of 50 most influential leaders in Ouachita Parish. He has also received the Legendary Senior Pastor award from Pastors and Ministers of Ouachita Parish.

Byrd believed that the greatest challenge that we face today is just the times that we find ourselves living in. “There seems to be so much working against what many of us grew up believing,” he explains. “Even if people weren’t truly saved, there was a fear of God. The world seems to have lost that fear. We live in an ‘anything goes’ society. Social media has cost the church some of its relevance.”

Byrd’s prayer is that during whatever time he has left in this lifetime, and with whatever influence he might have, that he can be an agent to bring our community – all of Ouachita Parish – closer together. “That is my heart, to see us truly united not just in words, but in our deeds also. To live in a place where there are no sides, no north, no south, no east nor west. Only then will we truly be our brother’s keeper.” Proverbs 19:21 reads: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Certainly the plans for Rev. Ike Byrd III’s life were made long before he even knew them.