Remembering Jeffery Joseph Horton (Meeko Israel)

Jeffery Joseph Horton (Meeko Israel) passed away Jan. 17, 2021.

Photo Courtesy of Anita Lock

Jeffery Joseph Horton (Meeko Israel) passed away Jan. 17, 2021.

On Jan. 17, 2021, the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Oberlin lost a spiritual pillar of our community: Meeko Israel. Larger than life, Meeko was a man of many gifts and talents, leaving behind his mark of love to touch the very core of every person he was in contact with and doing it all amid horrendous physical pain. Many know this compassionate man simply as Meeko, but very few know his real name — let alone his journey.

On Oct. 7, 1965, in Queens, NY, Jeffery Joseph Horton entered the world as the second son to Joseph H. Horton Jr. and Peggy Ann Farrington Horton, following his 3-year-old brother Lance. Brother Glen arrived three years later. Jeff attended Queen of All Saints Catholic Academy. He started at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School and Wingate and finally finished his General Education Diploma. Jeffery graduated from the School of Culinary Arts in New York City. During Lance and Jeff’s early years, the boys learned that they had sickle cell disease; the doctor said they would not make it past their 25th birthdays. Lance made it to shortly after his 26th birthday when he died in Jeff’s arms. On the other hand, Jeff figured that he’d be next but had no idea that he would outlive his big brother by another 29 years.

Jeff developed his cooking talent during high school, which led him to become a chef par excellence, cooking for several major restaurant chains and catering events for State Senator Velmanette Montgomery and several movie sets. He also cooked alongside the renowned late Chef Anthony Bourdain on Fire Island, the Hamptons, New York. 

Sometime in the late 1970s, Jeff started his DJ career, becoming the founding member of World Best Mobile Jocks. He began to take a keen interest in words and wordplay at the same time, creating double-meaning messages through the tool of poetry, his talent for wordsmithing swiftly morphing into spiritually thought-provoking, powerfully moving, and hip-hop grooving, rhythm, and rhyme. Having joined the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn during the 1990s and getting the church community’s attention and then that of pastor and bishop, Reverend Herbert D. Daughtry, he quickly became a noted spoken word artist.

Word spread about his wealth of knowledge in hip-hop and as a spoken word artist. By late 2000, Jeff was brought to Oberlin College by invitation to teach a presentation on hip-hop history through what was formerly known as Hip-Hop 101—now called OHOP. What was meant to be a week-long event, presenting to the African American Music program (Jazz Conservatory) and students in the Africana Studies department, turned into a six-month stay for him. During that time, he got involved with local theatrical plays and a course titled “Blues Aesthetic,” directed by Johnny Coleman, professor of Studio Art and Africana Studies.

After being asked to return the following year, Jeff decided that he was called to Oberlin and made a move to the city in the summer of 2002 as he loved the “cultural, intellectual, historical, and sacred identities of the City of Oberlin.” He also started attending an affiliate House of the Lord Church: Oberlin House of the Lord Fellowship. During his time there, he understood himself to be a living, breathing miracle and believed God had been keeping him on this earth for a purpose. A name change — something he sensed in Brooklyn but didn’t yet activate — was in order, and thus, Meeko (meekness before God; “the meek shall inherit the earth,” Matthew 5:5) Israel (“Triumph with God,” and thus, “all things are possible for those who believe,” Mark 9:23) was born. Meeko Israel not only fit him, but it stuck. Period. So every morning, Meeko’s new mantra became, “What do you want me to do today, Lord?” The rest became “his-story” as he fell in love with his church, community, and Oberlin College students, and they to him as he gave of himself selflessly.

 By 2002, Meeko rose to become a well-loved international and radio personality, especially with the inception of his ever-popular flagship radio program “The World Famous Meeko Show.” From there, he dove in with full force, engaging with the college and community as an activist, mentor, performer, and lecturer, developing a strong presence both at Afrikan Heritage House (Lord Saunders) and Oberlin Christian Fellowship. 

Fast forward to 2008 with the birth of his precious daughter, Iniu. She eventually gained the pet name Strong Girl when she joined her father on his show, which he renamed “The World Famous Meeko Show, featuring Strong Girl.” Fatherhood deepened his walk with God in every aspect of his life, especially now that he realized how his daughter would be looking to him for spiritual guidance.

In 2010, Meeko began a student ministry on campus and participated in the first Oberlin Friendship Festival, organized by Jafar Mahallati, professor of Religion, and became a regular spoken word artist for the next 10 years. Outside of the College, Meeko used his spoken word and poetry to host a weekly open mic session at Slow Train Cafe and became known as a “fixture” for Black History Month presentations at the local public schools. He also accompanied his dad, who serves as chaplain, to minister to and teach spoken-word workshops for incarcerated peoples at the Grafton Reintegration Center. Two years later, on July 22, 2012, Meeko became an ordained deacon at Oberlin House of the Lord Fellowship.

A staunch believer in independent radio, Meeko became the first person to hold the community representative position of WOBC’s student-run board in 2016, which provided the community an elected voice and representation in the station. David Dorsey, the director of the Office of Religious & Spiritual Life, appointed him to become a volunteer Protestant affiliate for ORSL and Meeko held that position for the next three years. He also served as the affiliate Africana liaison for ORSL — which connects that office to the African diaspora on campus — and was available as a resource for spiritual counseling to students, staff, and faculty. He became a point of contact for Black Lives Matter organizing on campus. Students recognized his on-the-ground commitment to activism and asked him to be the advisor of community outreach for ABUSUA (the Ghanaian word for “clan”), “a Black student organization that strives to promote a sense of community for Black students on the Oberlin campus.”

Early along the way, between Meeko’s engagement with the college and town, he met and connected with Yeworkwha Belachew (1952-2017; lovingly known as YB) and the legacy she established in Oberlin. The connection sparked his hunger to learn more about social change through conflict transformation, mediation, community building, and dialogue. In 2017, a few months before YB’s death, Meeko became a member of the Yeworkwha Belachew Center for Dialogue, receiving certification as a social justice mediator and facilitator. He used his experience with the arts and acting to infuse and energize roleplay situations during mediation training, “raising the stakes” by becoming several different characters throughout the process to “get fellow trainees as close as possible to real-world applications of mediation services.” His involvement with mediation came naturally. Adding to his already busy schedule, Meeko became a co-host with Idella White at WNZN 89.1 Power Point Radio from 2017 to 2018. At the time of his death, he was in the process of becoming a certified drug counselor.

Keep in mind that Meeko dealt with a wickedly debilitating disease that aggressively worked hard to ravage his body amid all his service over the years. Only his immediate and church family and a few close friends knew of his physical struggles as they helped get him to doctor’s appointments and the hospital when the pain was intolerable and life-threatening. His life was truly a testament to perseverance through faith.

Meeko Israel is survived by his daughters, Jacqueline C. Kennedy of Newark, NJ, and Iniu Ann Horton and her mother, Marcell Jones Horton, of Fairlawn, Ohio; his father, Joseph H. Horton Jr. and his wife, Valerie Horton of Copley, Ohio; his brother Glenn T. Horton and his wife, Sonya Horton of Brooklyn, NY; brother Joseph (Tutu) Horton II of Copley, Ohio; niece Samirah Ann Horton of Brooklyn, NY; uncle William Atkinson of Clermont, FL; and a host of cousins. He is also survived by the family at Oberlin House of the Lord Fellowship and The National Body, at The House of the Lord Church and Church on the Mount. He is also survived by the students and colleagues of Oberlin College.

He was preceded in death by his mother, Peggy Ann Farrington Horton, and brother Lance Gary Horton. 

A private service was held on Jan. 26 at Brown Robinson Funeral Home in Lorain, Ohio. Interment is at Westwood Cemetery, Oberlin, Ohio. Please send condolences to Joseph and Valerie Horton, 1555 Greening Drive, Copley, Ohio 44321, or email them at: [email protected].