Rev. Calvin O. Butts III to Deliver Keynote Address at 177th Commencement


Rev. Dr. Calvin Otis Butts III will receive an honorary doctorate in divinity. (Courtesy of Fordham News)

Rev. Dr. Calvin Otis Butts III, the pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, will be delivering the keynote address at Fordham University’s 177th Commencement.

The ceremony will honor Butts’ return to Fordham, as he has previously taught Black church history as an adjunct professor and returned in the spring 2022 semester as a distinguished visiting professor teaching in the Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy Division in the Graduate School of Education. In addition to delivering the address, Butts will also receive an honorary doctorate degree in divinity.

As the senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church — historically New York City’s largest Black church — and a globally recognized leader in education, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, regards him as “a giant of the civil rights movement.”

Education and faith are the hallmarks of Butts’ ministry and he has dedicated his life’s work to many services and causes in New York City. Butts has been a part of Abyssinian Baptist Church for over 30 years and was the president of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury for two decades before retiring in 2020. He is the founder and chair of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, a community-based nonprofit organization that contributed over $1 billion in housing and commercial development throughout Harlem. Additionally, Butts serves on the leadership board of New Visions for Public Schools and was a crucial part in the establishment of the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, a public intermediate and high school in Harlem, as well as the Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School. Further, Butts was a board member of the September 11 Fund and served as the president of Africare NYC, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in rural Africa.

“[Butts] is a powerful preacher and educator who has used his voice in the service of the city’s marginalized and dispossessed: In this he is our lodestar and our conscience,” McShane said.

Butts grew up in New York City, graduating from Flushing High School and then attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, Butts returned to New York and earned a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Drew University. He has received honorary degrees from Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the City University of New York/The City College of New York as well as numerous honors and commendations for his community activism including the United Negro College Fund’s Shirley Chisholm Community Service Award; The Medal for Distinguished Service from Teachers College, Columbia University and Man of the Year, Morehouse College Alumni Association.

The commencement for the class of 2022, where Butts will be speaking, will be held on Saturday, May 22 at the Rose Hill campus.