By Dezimon Alicea, Gary Crusader
Churches have been a major part of Gary, Indiana for decades. The Black church and the culture that comes with it is as much a part of Gary as the Steel Mills. This is a city built on faith. Ask Dr. Cato Brooks, Jr. who began his church, Tree of Life Missionary Baptist Church, back in 1979 in Gary. Since its inception, he has been the leader of a church which has been a safe haven for disenfranchised and the overlooked in the community.
Attached to the name Tree of Life church name are words like love, hope, fellowship and kindness. This has been a legacy laid by Brooks and his congregation. In August of 2017, Dr. Brooks retired as pastor of his church, but he did not leave the flock without the proper care. He made sure he left his congregation to someone that would show the same amount of compassion, love, empathy and care as he did for the 30 or more years he was their leader.
In the latter part of 2017, Rev. Dr. Eric L. Boone, Sr. took on the role of Pastor at Tree of Life MBC. Boone admits that these are big shoes to fill, but he wants to keep the same values that Brooks laid down, and hopes to add to the work Tree of Life has done in the community over the past 30 plus years. When you have an initial conversation with Eric Boone, his love for people is apparent. That may come from the foundation laid by his grandfather, who was a good friend of Pastor Brooks. Boone’s grandfather, Dr. Clint F. Watson was also a pastor in the city at the time. He was not only a Sunday morning preacher, but his love for people went outside of Sunday morning gatherings. Dr. Watson was responsible for founding the Indiana Christian Rescue Mission, which housed people in an 18 unit apartment building, assisted them in attaining their GEDs and provided assistance to move forward in life. He also founded the Indiana Christian Bible College, which many pastors in the city attended to receive educational training and to pursue degrees in theology. All of this, Dr. Waston was able to do while pastoring his flock at the St. Stephens Church. Eric Boone carries the same tenacity and care as his late grandfather.
Boone’s grandfather made a request that after he died, he wanted his family to attend Cato Brooks’ church, Tree of Life. He knew his family would receive sound teaching and the kind of emphatic love they deserved. It was at Tree of Life that Eric Boone’s calling became so evident and real.
At the age of 22, Eric Boone began preaching. As Boone describes it, “He was on his way out of here.” He was headed to Miami, Florida to begin his career straight out of college. But, his plans were averted by his “calling.” Boone went to church on a Sunday morning and heard the voice of God, telling him to redirect his plans. So, Boone wasn’t on his way to Miami anymore, he was about to get to work in the vineyards of Gary, Indiana. At 35 now, Boone has adapted well into his ministerial life. With four children and an 11-year marriage, he is living a life that he would not have been able to imagine. This is all because he chose to go to church one Sunday morning.
Boone credits the success he’s experiencing in his life to his wife, Tereka. She was the guiding force behind him attaining his master’s degree and even his doctorate. “She’s the best support system,” Boone says. Along with his undergraduate degree in Business, Boone has been able to make his impact as a businessman as well.
Young Bless Man (YBM), is a business Boones owns with his cousin Michael Watson, which provides clothing and promotions. Their business brought “The Mann World Tour” to the Arie Crown Theatre. For those that don’t know, the Mann’s found their fame playing in the stage plays and television shows with Tyler Perry. Boone’s business YBM, was also able to take the Mann’s World Tour to Nashville, Tennessee. They have a musical side to their business, and they just released their first single. They are planning to do humanitarian work too – giving away a house every year to someone in need. Eric Boone has his hands full, but he still wants to emphasize to people that regardless of education and business ventures, it’s all about giving glory to God. Boone wants to leave a legacy behind for his children and intends to continue the work he’s been called to do.
Join Rev. Dr. Eric L. Boone and the Tree of Life Missionary Baptist Church family every Sunday at 9 a.m. for Sunday School followed by the Service at 10:45 a.m. The church is located at 2323-33 West 11th Ave. in Gary.