News | West Harlem

Coalition of black ministers looks to address gentrification, social problems

  • David Brann / Senior Staff Photographer
    PREACH! | African-American religious leaders from around the city gathered to offer a broad critique of social problems in their neighborhoods.
  • David Brann / Senior Staff Photographer
    PREACH! | Locals said they were hopeful that the group could make a positive impact.

Claps, cheers, and passionate speeches echoed in a Harlem church on Thursday evening as a new coalition of African-American religious leaders sought to re-establish themselves as advocates for the city’s black community.

Representatives from 17 black churches gathered at Mount Neboh Baptist Church on 114th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard to express concerns about gentrification, a lack of affordable housing, and falling standards of education and nutrition in their neighborhoods.

Calling themselves Mobilizing Preachers and Communities, the reverends stuck to broad critiques of social problems facing New York without getting into many specifics of what they hope to do. 

“Everything that happened, happened under the watch of our elected officials,” said Rev. Johnnie Green of Mount Neboh Baptist Church, one of the group’s founding members. “We’re not against anyone—we’ll work with anyone to mobilize pastors around the city and the state to impact the way policies and decisions are made.”

Thursday was the group’s first meeting, which was advertised as a forum intended to “speak out about the deplorable conditions of our community and the injustice against our people.” The role of black churches as advocates for the public and catalysts for change was a theme repeated throughout the night.

“The last 20 years the church has strayed” from its role of advocating for its members, Larry English, former Community Board 9 chair and legal counsel for the group, said. “To see these pastors step back up and say that they’re reclaiming that mission is a transformative act.”

Green said he and other reverends founded the organization after they saw members suffering from high rents, gang violence, unemployment, and abuse by public officials. The group’s leaders are looking to partner with businesses and community groups to push their concerns to the forefront of government agendas.

Education and youth empowerment were some of the many themes of the evening, with speakers talking about the need for greater youth involvement in churches—though middle-aged adults filled most of the church hall.

“You’ve got to get the kids in here,” Rev. Vernon Williams, an anti-gang-violence advocate, said. “Only they can change us.”

Changing individuals’ behavior was another message of the speakers.

Deputy Inspector Ruel R. Stephenson said of engaging youth, “One of the best ways you can effect change is change from within.”

Rev. Patrick Young, another founding member of the group, said, “We’ve got to start mobilizing communities to not be victims, to be victors, to be helpers, and lifters.”

Many attendees seemed anxious to get home after the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, which featured jazz music interludes between the speakers. But they said they were hopeful that the group could make a positive impact, especially in the upcoming city elections.

“The meeting was needed because the church is a powerful force in the community, and it’s a chance for the church to understand we have been ignored,” Linda Guillebeaux of Harlem said. “We need to demand a piece of the pie, not just the crumbs.”

“It encouraged everybody to think about who they wanted to vote for and be more smart about their decisions within the community,” Maya Clark, another attendee, said.

The group first came to prominence after a New York Daily News article profiled them as a group of pastors rallying against Rev. Al Sharpton. At Thursday’s meeting, however, Sharpton was not mentioned at all, and Young was quoted in an article in Public Life saying that the Daily News’ report was “far from the truth.” 

The topic for the next meeting? More specific solutions.

“We all came together and that was the greatest accomplishment,” Rev. Kenneth Freeman of the New Greater Jerusalem Baptist Church in Brooklyn, said. “The next thing is how to get some of these issues solved.”  |  @ColumbiaSpec


Plain text

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Your username will not be displayed if checked
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
TrueHarlemite posted on

This was supposed to be a 2 hour meeting. I understand that all these Ministers did on the evening of October 24th was talk, talk, talk, and talk about what they were going to do. They talk so much they only left the public 10 - 15 minutes to speak. This is the same sorry stuff all over again. Glad I did not attend.

These Reverends have not been seen marching with the people on the people's issues of concern. Their deliberate decision to not be involved and remain silent on issues of concern to the Harlem community has been largely responsible for the huge gentrification that has taken place in Harlem.

Now they are losing their congregations and their congregations' money. Now they see what their silence has wrought. Now they are upset.

Al Sharpton has not really cared about Harlem issues for a while now and only gets involved when money is involved.

A pox on the houses all of these "sorry" ministers. Al Sharpton's included.

@TrueHarlemite | |

Anonymous posted on

Its encouraging to see the black pastors moving on from the Charles Rangle era and address the social and economic issues confronting their members.
The Democratic/Liberal/Progressive party has taken the black vote in NYC for granted and has not delivered o essential community services.

A suggestion: That churches concentrate on ministries that they can render to the community without government funding through the tithes and offerings of its members. Mentoring/tutoring minor apartment repairs, marriage and marriage formation counseling, budgeting and money management etc. cost little or nothing except the sacrifice of time and energy.

Do not expect the community to come to you go to them.

Do not lend your pulpit to ANY politician, they will get the message that they have to EARN the right to come into the house of God and address your members.

Hold community forums and invite politicians to explain their proposals and what they have done in a neutral/ secular communality setting i.e. a public school.

In short stop chasing and begging a system and individuals who do not have the communities interest in mind no based on their rhetoric if they are incumbents, they should show you what they have accomplished, or for new candidates a through analysis of their proposals. The goal is to make them earn your recognition and vote.

Winston Sweeting posted on

According to the article, Mr. English states the church has strayed. Who was leading..hmm..preachers,( my guess). Three of the main organizers of the meeting are already members of an organization of Harlem churches. There are citywide organizations that are already at work on the same issues that prompted this... 'awakening'.

Minister C Davis posted on

I have been reading article after articles of pastors from the east coast to the west coast who are dealing with the same tormenting social issues of crime etc., with no permanent solutions!!

Why is this? How have these same issues of gang violence, domestic violence, unemployment and not to mention children having children gone viral, all at the same time? I'll tell you why and it's not going to be good so read closely.

In my travels for the past thirty years I have always been invited to store front holiness churches having revivals and fundraisers only to be out of business a few years later due to all kind of craziness and lacking of vision. While at the same time I found many of the larger black churches had become a social club for the elite looking down at others who didn't measure up to their standards of prosperity. But in both kinds of churches members faithfully serve God doing their church work while their personal lives suffer greatly with little help or solutions. As long as we kept all our mess swept under the church rug at he alter we just pretended not to see or smell the mess under it.
Now God has pulled up that rug and we're all forced to look at the mess and smell the stench. God is calling us all to the alter and demanding we repent
starting with the Bishops and Elders!
2 Chronicles 7:14
if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Read that whole chapter and you'll see it's like today's news. Holiness is our only solution to this demonic madness of sin that has taken over our world.
Get right church and let's fight the good fight of faith! God is depending on us to be that light in this dark world. Take your stand for this battle is not ours but the Lord's. Draw closer to Jesus Christ for real. Take off the game face and raise your hands and surrender to Christ, pick up your sword which is the word of God-get in that book and you'll get your marching orders. It's going to be a fierce battle but we overcome with the blood of Jesus Christ.
I'm in this battle like everyone else as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ and I see we WIN!! Praise God saints, Praise God!!

Minister Davis