Continuing a series of posts looking at the 5 principles that govern the Harlem Children’s Zone model…
Principle 3: Building Community
Of course, no matter how effective, it takes more than one series of programs working together to support a child’s development. It takes an entire community working together to do that. So from the beginning, HCZ has worked collaboratively with local residents, faith-based institutions, cultural organizations, and other leaders on an array of issues affecting children.
Children’s development is profoundly affected by their environment. The most important part of that environment is, of course, the family and the home. But it also matters greatly what children face once they step outside their home. Will their role models be drug dealers loitering on the corner or neighbors in work attire walking to the train every morning to go to work? Will children jump rope in safe playgrounds or congregate in vacant lots? Pride in the neighborhood and strong, thoughtful local leadership must flourish alongside stable families and effective programs. For it is residents, stakeholders, and local institutions that will, in the end, sustain the community.
For these reasons, community building is an essential part of the HCZ model. Residents have advised us on local needs and guided our growth at every stage of our development. Through leadership training, community organizing, neighborhood beautification, connections to social services, and a host of other activities, we work every day to build a strong community and mend the fabric of Central Harlem.
I am a lifelong Chicagoan, a pastor at River City Community Church, and an author who writes a lot about resisting and confronting white supremacy from a faith lens.
Our church was founded in January of 2003 in the west Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, and is centered on the core values of worship, reconciliation, and neighborhood development. We long to see increased spiritual renewal as well as social and economic justice in the Humboldt Park neighborhood and entire city, demonstrating compassion and alleviating poverty as tangible expressions of the Kingdom of God. It is also through the gift of this faith community that I have learned to see the profound historical and spiritual impact of the stronghold of white supremacy, and where I have been challenged to broaden and deepen my understanding of discipleship in the hopes of becoming a serious enough Christ follower who is able to meaningfully participate with those who have risen up in defiance of this evil principality.
The lessons learned in this journey have been captured in a pair of books on race. The first, White Awake, explores the barriers that white people tend to face – white Christians specifically – when we attempt to awaken to and understand white supremacy through a faith lens. I spend a lot of time here addressing the internal defenses that are bound to go off when this journey is taken seriously, and I chart out a path for developing a resilient spirit that steadfastly moves towards truth, justice, and equity. The second, White Lies, further builds out the path for the white Christian who longs to actively participate in the resistance and confrontation of white supremacy. I spend a lot of time here exploring why it is so hard to tell the truth about race, as well as expose the lies that sustain it, within white, Christian, Bible-believing environments. I then propose nine practices that position us for engaging in this task.
On the personal front, my career started in the marketplace, as I was part of three dot.com startups in the 90’s. My vocational path shifted when I joined the staff of Willow Creek Community Church in 1998, and I spent five years working there. I started River City Community Church in January 2003 and have been happily serving here ever since. On the education front, my undergrad was in Business (Purdue University), my graduate degree in theology (Moody Bible Institute), and my doctoral degree in community development (Northern Seminary). On the family front, my wife is a Professor of Psychology, and we have two amazing children (Xander and Gabriella).
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