IN A CITY WHERE SO MANY NEIGHBORHOODS and ethnic groups turn inward, the Rev. Aaron D. Iverson has devoted his life to reaching out.
The 59-year-old minister, who runs the Paradise Baptist Church in South Los Angeles, hosted the first black-history celebration of the Museum of Tolerance. He traveled with a delegation to Seoul to improve relations between African-Americans and Koreans. And in recent years, he established a Spanish-speaking ministry within the church that regularly unites black and Latino parishioners in worship and other church activities.
“I personally am committed to having our church be reflective of the community in which we reside,” said Iverson, who recently returned from South Africa, where he is working on AIDS education programs with a sister church in Johannesburg.
Paradise Baptist Church was founded in 1944 by Iverson’s father, the late Dr. Aaron J. Iverson, who spent nearly a decade preaching alongside his son until his death. As the surrounding neighborhood has transformed from predominantly black to majority Latino, the younger Iverson has been a pioneer, helping parishioners learn English and fill out the paperwork to attain legal-resident status. In 2001, Iverson was one of the only African-American religious leaders to endorse Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa over his opponent, then City Attorney James Hahn, whose father was a fixture in the black community. Although Villaraigosa was defeated that year, Iverson said he viewed his candidacy as one whose time had come:
“Even though people weren’t yet ready for it, I knew it was an idea that would be successful, and no one could prevent that from happening.”