HIGHBRIDGE — The Rev. Wenzell Jackson, a Bronx church and community leader with a powerful singing voice and a knack for bridging divides, died of a heart attack Tuesday morning, according to his church. He was 47.
Jackson was the chairman of Community Board 4 and, for the past decade, the senior pastor of Mount Hermon Baptist Church, where an impromptu meeting and memorial was held Tuesday evening.
Tamra Jackson, the pastor's wife of 24 years, addressed the stunned congregation there.
“We just have to wonder why God does what he does," she said. "I know that my heart is gone."
Later she added, “But God knows why he does what he does. He’s got a great angel up there.”
Originally from San Francisco, Jackson arrived at Mount Hermon Baptist Church, at the corner of Nelson Avenue and 167th Street, in 2003.
Members said Tuesday that he was well loved there, regarded as approachable and with a healthy sense of humor and sensitivity to the needs of young people.
Dejinay Reed, 24, said he had helped her win a $2,000 college grant funded by the nearby Yankees and that he encouraged her and others her age to be active in the community.
“He fed us spiritually and emotionally,” said Reed, who called the pastor, “PJ.” “We were his children.”
With his lively baritone, he was known for his arresting rendition of the gospel standard, "My Soul Has Been Anchored in The Lord."
“I yearn to hear that beautiful voice (God gave you) sing ‘My Soul [Has Been] Anchored In The Lord,’ just one more time,” one person posted on Jackson’s Facebook page Tuesday.
“Haven't heard anybody sing it better,” another wrote.
Jackson formed bonds beyond the church as well.
Last year, he was invited to sing the national anthem at Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.’s State of the Borough address.
“Pastor Jackson’s passing is a big loss for The Bronx and the community he so strongly and passionately served as both a public servant and clergy leader,” Diaz said in a statement Tuesday.
Jackson was voted chairman of Community Board 4 a few years ago, not long after the board failed to block the construction of the new Yankee Stadium atop local parkland, which many residents opposed.
Some board members were still reeling from that ordeal when Jackson took over, according to the Rev. Earl McKay, a board member and the pastor at Church of God of Prophecy.
“More than anything, I think he brought a great degree of calm and order to the board,” McKay said.
Jackson also headed the 44th Precinct Clergy Council and organized a coalition of Highbridge clergy that met at Mount Hermon to discuss urgent neighborhood concerns, McKay added.
He frequently dissolved into infectious laughter at community board meetings. Last year, he occasionally reported to the members on his weight loss — nearly 80 pounds by year’s end.
Jackson’s disarming personality combined with his fierce commitment to the community made him a cherished leader who will be hard to replace, said Robert Garmendiz, another board member.
“It’s going to leave a really big void for all of us,” he said.