The Rev. Brendolyn Jenkins Boseman has led a life of community service and activism, but her commitment to improving the lives of others began when she had to fight for her own equality as a young child.

"I grew up the child of a civil rights icon," Jenkins Boseman said. "Childhood, for me, was a world of protest and service and activism. It informs not only what I do, but truly the 'who I am' today."

Jenkins Boseman, who is now a pastor at Hudson Memorial CME Church in Augusta, grew up in downtown Barnwell. She was the middle child of five kids, with two older brothers and two younger sisters. Her mother, Johnnie Ruth Jenkins, was born in Barnwell in 1931 and was biracial. 

She attended civil rights protests as a child with her mother, who she said endured an extreme "duality" in then-racially segregated Barnwell. But her most personal and powerful experience with civil rights wouldn't be outside on the streets protesting – it would occur within the walls of her own school.

Jenkins Boseman said she was, in a way, the "Ruby Bridges" of Barnwell County. Ruby Bridges was the first black kindergartner to attend William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana; she had to be escorted by U.S. Marshals to and from class due to the high level of death threats made against her from teachers, students and parents at the school.

The best of Brendolyn Jenkins Boseman

Like Ruby Bridges, Jenkins Boseman was one of the first black students to desegregate schools in Barnwell. She was one of two non-white students in her grade at Barnwell Junior High, and one of her brothers was among the first black students to attend Barnwell High School. Her other brother, a talented football player, remained in his old school. Jenkins Boseman said her mother was concerned that his future would be destroyed if he went to a predominately white school because he would "never put on a uniform."

It was one of the most difficult and loneliest times of their lives.

"I probably should be getting a check for PTSD," Jenkins Boseman said. "I fought every day, stepping onto a bus to stepping off of a bus. From the teachers, to the administrators, to the students themselves, to parents ... We were walking through a double-line of spitting and cursing and axle-handling, from the sidewalk down to the front door of the school."

Jenkins Boseman said she was "ultra-aware" of how important what she was doing was for herself and others that would come after. It's what got her through all the criticism from white families at school and from black families in her own community who "ostracized" the family because they thought they shouldn't be attending a school in the white community.

The best of Brendolyn Jenkins Boseman

"The kids today say 'woke,'" Jenkins Boseman said. "I was for-real woke ... Their activism is through the touch of a phone. My activism was on the front lines of war."

Jenkins Boseman later attended South Carolina State College, but wasn't studying for her chosen career field. She wanted to be a funeral home director (an "undertaker" as it was known back then), but her mother had concerns about her daughter entering the male-dominated field. She said this conflict of interest in her future was what led her to drop out of college at the time. 

"I studied partying," Jenkins Boseman said. "I really wasted God's time and my mother's money. I tell that openly and honestly to young folks, because I was sent there to pursue something that was not my vision for myself."

Jenkins Boseman left the college her sophomore year. At 19, she packed up her things in a couple of boxes and moved to New York City, where she would stay for the next 26 years. She interned at a Puerto Rican funeral home in the South Bronx – one of the only places she said would hire a black female in the business at that time – and went on to work at a prominent funeral home in Harlem.

Her passion for the business comes from her faith, which is the most important guiding aspect of her life.

"My faith is my foundation," Jenkins Boseman said. "It informs my behavior, it informs the magnitude of grace and mercy I'm required to dispense, the amount of love I must give, and the stance for justice and righteousness I must take. It is everything."

Jenkins Boseman opened her own business, Jenkins Memorial Chapels, in Elko in 1993 after she moved back to South Carolina. She also opened a branch in Aiken, where she currently lives. 

"Working in the funeral business is the height of ministry," Jenkins Boseman said. "... Anybody that calls me, it's often the worst time of their lives. It's not a good thing when somebody calls."

Jenkins Boseman said her career shift came later in life, after two cancer scares and a turbulent divorce.

 "And I said, 'God, that's enough service,' but then God said, 'Oh, no,'" she said.

She said she felt God calling her to leave the funeral business and commit to ministry, but it took time before she "gave in" and began studying to become a pastor.

After becoming ordained, an Augusta-area bishop asked Jenkins Boseman to take her pick from 28 churches in Augusta in which to preach. Instead of asking who had the most congregants or who had the highest budget, Jenkins Boseman said she asked where the need for ministry was greatest. 

She got the name of the church in January several years ago: Hudson Memorial CME Church. She decided to take some time to consider her decision.

"That April, I was coming out of the (Family) Y in Graniteville," Jenkins Boseman said. "It was a dreary Saturday morning, (it was) raining. And the Spirit said, 'Go now.'"

When she visited the neighborhood where the church was located, Jenkins Boseman said she saw a lot of "pain and brokenness." She thought it was a "gold mine" for ministry because of how many people needed some hope and faith in their lives.

June 2019 marked four years since Jenkins Boseman became the pastor of Hudson Memorial CME Church.

"It has been the greatest four years of my life," Jenkins Boseman said.

Aside from ministry, Jenkins Boseman is involved in community service in a variety of ways.

She is the executive director of the Imani Group, a nonprofit that seeks to eliminate sexism, classism, ageism and racism (SCARs) in the area. The Imani Group's key areas of focus include criminal justice and reform, community building, and youth leadership and development programs. The word "Imani" is Swahili for "faith."

Jenkins Boseman is also a member of the Concerned Ministers Fellowship, a religious nonprofit organization based in Aiken, and a former president of the Aiken County Branch NAACP. She has three daughters she cherishes. 

The pastor said she is looking forward to the holidays, which she plans on spending with her husband and daughters in Charleston. The Imani Group also will be hosting a Kwanzaa Fest celebration at the Smith-Hazel Recreation Center on Dec. 14.

Jenkins Boseman said this event was "big" with the Imani Group in the late ’90s, and the group is "excited" to be hosting it again.

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.