Voices of More for Memphis: Pastor Stephen Brown of Light of Glory International Church

Editor's Note: This interview was conducted by Tafui Owusu to help uplift the voices and stories of community members who have been instrumental in developing the More for Memphis plan. 

On April 3, 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) launched the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) along with the Cares Act. Small businesses and nonprofit organizations were provided approximately $800 billion in low-interest uncollateralized loans through May 31, 2021, that garnered relief from the effects of COVID-19 and supported economic security.

Recently, there have been several loan investigations conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and other federal agencies that are also targeting recipients in PPP loan fraud investigations. 

One of those recipients was Pastor Stephen Brown of Light of Glory International Church who was declared “not guilty” in May of 2024 of such allegations. “We didn’t really know many guidelines, we didn’t know many rules, all we knew was just to apply,” explained Brown after he and his team hired a tax preparer and CPA to assist with the application process.

This statement shared by Pastor Brown was collectively sung among several recipients of the funds issued by the U.S. government. Some even feared applying because it felt like these large amounts of aid were an entrapment by the government that targeted small businesses leaving them open for attack post-payment which is sort of what happened to leaders like Pastor Brown three years after he was given the money to keep his church going. 

The police came knocking on his door in September of 2022 with an indictment,
labeling him a criminal for allegedly using COVID-19 relief money for personal gains. Pastor Brown and his loved ones were blown away by this indictment and considered it completely absurd. 

Light of Glory International Church hosted annual events for the community like “Gas on God” where they distributed fuel gift cards that helped families save on some of their regular expenses. Recently, the church rolled out its first neighborhood-wide “Baby Shower” for mothers, expecting parents, and families of the babies. Many were gifted diapers, books, and wipes, and were grateful for the relief they received for their children. 

Pastor Brown and wife Dr. Neshante Brown.
The PPP loan awarded to Pastor Brown helped to keep efforts like these going, including feeding hundreds in the downtown area regularly. “People were trying to do the right thing but for the few mistakes they made, not understanding everything, you turn around and prosecute them for that. I just thought that it was ridiculous,” he said. 

Pastor Brown went on to say that the indictment was very unfortunate for him, his wife and children, and of course, the members of his church who all stood with him during the process. 

The pastor has been a pillar in the Downtown/Uptown community of Memphis for over thirteen years. He is well-known for his service to others and is noted as a man of integrity not only to his family but to the many lives his ministry has impacted throughout the years which initially began through hosting tent revivals.

Although Pastor Brown's innocence was proven when his “not guilty” verdict was delivered, he has a message for others who could endure the same painful process. “I don’t work for the federal government and I can’t tell them how to do their job, but I do know now they’re not always right. Some people are telling the truth,” he explained.

Pastor Brown went on to say that this whole process has opened his eyes to the question of how many people in prison are innocent of crimes they didn’t commit. This was an important statement that almost serves as an epiphany since his church is located a street over from Shelby County Correctional Facility.
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Read more articles by Tafui Owusu.

Tafui Owusu (formerly Shelia Williams) is a resident of the Bickford-Bearwater area of North Memphis and a graduate of the second High Ground News Community Correspondents program. She is also a board commissioner for MATA.