June 4, 2021
Banks recognized for significant contributions to Wheaton College, the church, the Christian publishing world, and communities of color
At its May meeting the Wheaton College Board of Trustees approved naming the College’s Welcome Center for the late Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Sr. (1934-2021). The Board also approved adding a display in the Welcome Center’s Great Hall with imagery of Dr. Banks, along with a tribute drawn from audio and visual resources communicating his life and ministry.
Built in 2017, the elegant Melvin E. Banks, Sr. Welcome Center’s stone exterior outlined in patinaed copper piping is home to the College’s Enrollment Services. It serves as a warm and inviting front door for campus visitors, including prospective students and their families, alumni, distinguished lecturers, and conference guests. Link here to download photos of Dr. Banks and the Welcome Center.
“We were so pleased to recommend this naming to the full Board,” said Trustee Kathy Vaselkiv, who chaired the Committee to Honor the Late Trustee Emeritus Dr. Banks. “Dr. Banks’s devotion to including and reflecting all the diversity of God's people in our unity in Christ will continue to inspire generations of future students.”
Melvin Banks earned two degrees from Wheaton College (BA ’55 Archeology and Near Eastern Studies, and MA ’59 New Testament). Wheaton awarded him the honorary doctor of letters in 1993 for his pioneering work in African American Christian publishing. He served as a Wheaton College Trustee for 16 years, from 1993 to 2009. In the mid-1990s, he assisted former President Duane Litfin to establish friendships with alumni in urban ministry.
Dr. Banks died on February 13, 2021, after a lifetime of serving the church and society through founding Urban Ministries, Inc., the world’s largest African American-owned publishing house. As part of his work, Dr. Banks pioneered publications and teaching resources that were relevant and appealing to his African American audiences. During his life, Urban Ministries served more than 50,000 churches with books, curriculum, bible studies, and more. In 2017 he received the Kenneth N. Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.
During his exemplary pastoral career, Dr. Banks established multiple urban churches in Chicago and around the Midwest that are still in fellowship. He created the campground and conference center, Circle Y Ranch, for urban youth, and developed the Urban Outreach to support pastors, lay leaders, and Christian educators. He wrote several books and Bible studies and launched a daily two-minute podcast, Daily Direction, that continues to air on Moody Radio.
“Dr. Banks exemplified so many of the qualities we seek to form in every student who studies on our campus: Christian character, love for the Lord and for others, a commitment to justice and mercy,” Wheaton College President Philip Ryken said. “He served Christ and his Kingdom through an expansive vision and sacrificial ministry for the African American church, for other people of color, and for all Christians everywhere. We are truly honored to be able to recognize his legacy in this way.”