PULPIT FOR PROSPERITY
BLACK CHURCHES TRY TO NURTURE MEMBERS' FINANCIAL
By Dolores Kong
The Boston Globe
In the basement of Concord Baptist Church in the South
End, the Rev. Frank E. Kelley preached about resisting
temptation - not the temptation to sin, but the
temptation to spend rather than save for a down
payment on a house.
"This is not the time to buy a big-ticket item such as
a car," Kelley recently told a group of about a dozen
prospective home buyers. "It's time to put in extra
hours on your job to build up income and pay down
Sessions like these have become common around the
country, as black churches reach beyond traditional
social and religious programs to embrace economic
development and personal finance initiatives. The goal
is to help blacks build wealth and attain
homeownership as the economy continues its historic
"Part of the concern that black churches have is, `How
do you spread the wealth around?' " said the Rev.
Alexander D. Hurt, of the Hurt Inner-City Ministries
and a member of the Ten Point Coalition in Boston.
"How do you make sure people left outside the circle -
in terms of wealth creation, in terms of a thriving
stock market - how do you make sure those people are
Those questions are at the heart of a national
conference starting today at the Boston Park Plaza
Hotel. Sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of
Boston, the three-day conference will explore ways
black churches can expand their economic missions to
help their members gain greater financial security.
More than 70 percent of white Americans own homes,
compared with just over 45 percent of blacks. And
while the booming economy has meant overall low
unemployment in Massachusetts and across the nation,
the unemployment rate for blacks is more than twice as
high as for whites.
Certainly, economic expansion has been a tide that has
lifted all boats, with per capita income going up for
all groups over the years. But in 1998, blacks still
earned 39 percent less than whites per capita.
Citing the Rev. Jesse Jackson's new book on personal
finance, "It's About the Money," which Jackson
co-wrote with his son, Hurt said economic empowerment
is "the next phase of the civil rights struggle. How
do you build sustainable and economically healthy
communities, those that generate wealth and allow
people to live there in decency?"
The Ten Point Coalition and the Black Ministerial
Alliance of Greater Boston are among the Federal
Reserve Bank of Boston's partners in the conference on
engaging the black church in economic development.
Others include the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at
Harvard, the Harvard Divinity School, and the American
Baptist Churches of Massachusetts.
The black church's interest in economic development
and wealth- building may be particularly keen now
because of how well the stock market and economy have
done, said Ronald Ferguson, an economist at Harvard's
Kennedy School of Government, and one of the speakers
at the Boston Fed conference.
"It may be that people are more hopeful right now
because the economy is in good shape," said Ferguson,
who will lead a workshop on community development.
"People think, `If not now, then when?' That may be
Marilyn Weekes, assistant vice president in public and
community affairs for the Boston Fed, said she sees
the black church's involvement in economic development
as an extension of its historic role in the community.
"I don't see it as a new mission for the black
church," Weekes said. "I think that what we see is a
request for the tools from getting from A to Z, of
really catching up with the mainstream."
Nearly 400 people from around the country have
registered for the conference, which is being
cosponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of
"We see ourselves as being a catalyst," Weekes
said,"whereby we help to provide the necessary tools
that will spark this economic engine."
Already in Boston, the black church is helping to keep
that economic engine going, through efforts of such
organizations as the Black Ministerial Alliance, the
Ten Point Coalition, and other groups.
For instance, another group that Hurt of the Ten Point
Coalition is involved with, the Urban Christian
Economic Partnership, has submitted a $3.8 million
proposal to the city of Boston to develop the
boarded-up city-owned Silva Building in Grove Hall
into a retail and office complex.
If the city decides to grant the partnership of black
preachers the project, "what that does in terms of
wealth creation, job creation, is absolutely
mind-boggling," said Hurt.
The partnership also includes the Rev. Ray Hammond of
Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain, Pastor William E.
Dickerson of the Greater Love Tabernacle in Roxbury,
Bishop Gilbert A. Thompson of the New Covenant
Christian Center in Mattapan, and Bishop Louis C.
Young of the State Temple Church of God in Christ in
On another front, the Black Ministerial Alliance of
Greater Boston and affiliated organizations have
launched a 50-week program at various Boston-area
black churches to teach methods for building financial
assets and purchasing a home.
Participants save $30 a week over the course of the 50
weeks, for a total of $1,500, and get matching funds
of another $6,000 toward a home purchase, plus closing
costs paid by the city, according to Concord Baptist
Church's Kelley, economic chairman for the alliance,
and the Rev. Wesley Roberts, president of the alliance
and head of the People's Baptist Church in the South
In one recent evening session at Concord Baptist
Church, Kelley, a former banker, prodded participants
and gave them hope, talked of the racism he has felt
himself in the home-buying process, and provided
detailed information about adjustable mortgages and
private mortgage insurance.
"You're on the way," he told the group, which calls
itself "Eyes on the Prize," the prize being
homeownership. Those who attended all said they were
gaining confidence that they would be able to buy a
house in the near future.
Sharon Cotton, 35, a receptionist from Roxbury, said
her 4-month- old grandson, whom she sometimes cradled
in her arms during the meeting, "is one of my reasons
Beverly M. Nisbett, 52, who works in accounts
receivable at a Boston hospital, said she was never
interested in buying a house until rents started going
up so high. "I'm sick of people controlling my
destiny," she said.
And Eron Senfuma, 36, a Somerville resident who works
at a hospital, said she looks forward to owning a
home, just as her sister does. "It's a privilege," she