Jan. 14, 2001:
He clasps his hands together prayer-like, his black eyes beam and sometimes well with tears, as he talks about how the churches can help mend broken hearts and troubled minds by taking a leap of faith together.
There is such a state of hopelessness among some of the young men and women of this city,” Shumake said. “The church can restore hope. That’s our role. That’s what we’re supposed to do. But it takes collaboration. When you bring all the entities together, things will change.”
To that end, Shumake has called an eclectic group of nearly 100 religious, business and community leaders to a gathering in the city’s Iron Triangle neighborhood Thursday to begin setting an agenda for the churches of Richmond that focuses on solving the economic woes of its residents.
The meeting comes with the city set to embark on hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of development, a rebirth that promises to bring thousands of new jobs and residents to Richmond.
It also comes with residents still grieving over the recent shooting deaths of three teen-agers in south Richmond and one near Richmond High School just across the city line in San Pablo.
Shumake does not want the churches to just preach peace from the pulpit but also to throw their doors open wide in a collaborative effort to improve the community’s spiritual and economic vitality.
“We are in the midst of a spiritual explosion in the city of Richmond and across the country,” Shumake said. “You hear people crying out, What can I do?’ and it’s an awesome thing to witness. You have so many people saying the same thing. Now they are coming together. Now is the time. What you are going to see is the church in action.”
Ministers from at least 20 churches of various denominations have been invited to Thursday’s meeting.
It will start with a moment of silence for the slain youths.
“The pastors of this city have a vision,” said Shumake. “We’re trying to bring that vision together and do the work that we’ve been called to do.”
Speakers will include Richmond Police Chief Joseph Samuels, Ruby Hamilton of the Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services Department, Landon Williams of the San Francisco Foundation’s FAITHS Initiative and Debra Carter-Kelly of Pacific Bell.
The keynote speaker will be Aubry Stone of the California Black Chambers of Commerce. City Manager Isiah Turner will be the master of ceremonies.
Participants will learn how churches can form nonprofit corporations to help develop affordable housing and launch commercial endeavors like grocery stores, banks and pharmacies to bring services and jobs to inner-city neighborhoods.
Shumake also envisions developing faith-based mentoring programs for youths and adults, with churches throughout the city helping to provide job training and classes on parenting, budgeting, literacy and African-American history.
“If we want to curb the violence we have to provide some economic incentives,” Shumake said. “For those young men and women on the streets, it’s about economics. They’re making money out there. If we can treat them with dignity and respect, if we can provide them with positive alternatives, I believe the community will rise to the occasion.”
Shumake believes that even if just a few of the city’s 112 churches get involved, they can make a difference.
Fellow Richmond ministers agreed.
“The churches are the ones who have the most pull on the community,” said Bishop Marion Pride, a resident of the Iron Triangle and former president of the neighborhood council. “The pastors have more outreach to them than anyone else in the community.”
“The churches, the ministers are interested in the whole man,” said the Rev. Joseph Harold, pastor of the Parchester First Baptist Church. “Not just his salvation, but his living condition and everything else.”
The approach reflects a growing movement of churches joining with government officials and social service organizations to help address society’s ills with means that go beyond prayer.
Churches in Los Angeles have teamed up with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to take over abandoned and blighted properties for the creation of apartments and housing for AIDS sufferers and low-income families.
Church leaders in New York’s Harlem have banded together to raise awareness and federal funding in the fight against the AIDS epidemic in the black community.
In Nashville, Tenn., church leaders have come up with a plan to create a center where immigrants and their children can learn English or computer skills or be tutored.
Contra Costa is no exception. The county spent about $300,000 last year on collaborative social service projects with churches and religious organizations.
The spirit of cooperation also is behind the work of the Greater Richmond Interfaith Project, or GRIP. Formed in 1966 in response to growing racial unrest and other social issues, the group of 27 East Bay congregations now provides social services, including a winter shelter program.
Even President-elect Bush has recognized the importance of the churches as a provider of social services, proposing to add an Office of Faith-Based Programs to work with churches and charities that aid the needy.
California’s 1998 welfare-to-work legislation has spurred the trend by explicitly stating that counties should seek to work with religious organizations in developing job training, child care and other programs to aid the transition.
Nonprofit groups are also working more with church groups.
The San Francisco Foundation has been providing grant money and technical assistance to faith-based organizations for seven years, said Williams, director of the foundations’ FAITHS Initiative, which includes about 350 congregations in five Bay Area counties.
The initiative recently helped the Easter Hill Methodist Church buy an ailing commercial property on Cutting Boulevard and open a thrift store that not only supports the church financially but also has helped revitalize the area.
Shumake knows firsthand the secular success a church can have working with government and social service organizations.
For two years, Shumake’s church has helped Contra Costa County and Neighborhood House of North Richmond wean residents off welfare.
More than 600 residents have landed full-time jobs by way of the North Richmond Community Career and Resource Center at his church, Shumake said.
Shumake also has been an outspoken advocate of change as president of the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council, a residents’ group that oversees one of the city’s most troubled and crime-plagued neighborhoods.
“I see firsthand the problems of homelessness, teen pregnancy and gentrification,” Shumake said. “If we want to solve those problems, we have to get the churches to open their doors for after-school tutoring programs and child care, parenting classes and financial tutoring.”
Proselytizing is forbidden at the career center, Shumake added. “We can’t inquire what one’s faith is. But we can show love through our actions. That’s the church in action.”
City Manager Turner said the churches could be integral to his mission of making Richmond more vital and prosperous.
“There’s been money set aside for faith-based organizations to prepare people for work and create economic development opportunities in the community that center on transitioning people from a lower economic rung to a higher economic rung.”
Councilman Gary Bell said he can see the advantages of a loose-knit partnership between the city and its churches, as long as city funding doesn’t go to them directly.
“I would not envision the city actually being involved with them as a funder or with setting an agenda,” Bell said. “But I would see them communicating with the city and saying, Here’s what we are willing to do. What is the city willing to do to assist to us reach our goals?'”
Shumake acknowledged that city government alone can’t improve what ails Richmond neighborhoods:
“Historically the African-American church has been at the forefront of every movement. It’s time now for the church to be out in front of the changes that are taking place and need to take place in Richmond.”
Such collaborations can occur without violating the separation of church and state, said county Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond.
“There are ways that it can be done without funding going directly to the church but that support the work that needs to be done,” Gioia said. “If a youth group in church wants to help teach art at an elementary school after school, that’s not about religion. That’s about utilizing the resources of a church to provide a service.”
Photo. The Rev. Andre Shumake believes churches working together can help end violence in Richmond. (Herman Bustamante Jr./Times). Breakout. Meeting information. Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council, 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nevin Community Center, 598 Nevin Ave., Richmond.