The Rev. Eugene “Freedom” Blackwell was a man who came along once in a generation. His passion for civil rights set him apart from the rest, making it fitting that the Synod of the Trinity honor the Pittsburgh man with a first-time grant coinciding with the Synod’s 300th birthday in 2017.
Freedom Grants were available to presbyteries and congregations for seed projects relating to a General Assembly priority around the plight of the African American male. In 2016, the 222nd General Assembly voted to “take specific action, not just in word, but also in deed, to address and improve the worsening plight of the African American male in any of the five specified cities as a pilot initiative pointing toward future and further nationwide intervention.” The Synod of the Trinity encouraged areas of smaller African American populations to consider work that they might engage in to address the challenges of African American males in their cities and towns, with this Freedom Grant helping to fund those initiatives. (More on the Freedom Grant is available here.)
All told, four congregations within the Synod were awarded $5,000 each to pursue creative projects among themselves, with community agencies or in partnership with local municipalities to help remove the obstacles African American males face. What follows are descriptions of the proposed projects that were awarded Freedom Grants:
Aston Presbyterian Church, Chester, PA
Thomas M. Thomas Memorial Presbyterian Church, Chester, PA
Presbytery of Philadelphia
The per capita murder rate in Chester the highest in the country, the city’s crime rate three times the national average and its drug addiction is an epidemic. Elders at Aston Church and TMT agree that the absence of jobs and training are root causes contributing to these challenges. Using a vacant house (to be known as the Freedom House) that is located next to the TMT sanctuary, these two congregations feel it could use that space as a training area for students.
The plan is to recruit six students from Chester High School and six more from Aston High School to work side-by-side to learn valuable construction, communication and team-building skills. Students will work together under the care of a highly-trained building supervisor, with additional volunteer leaders being recruited from the two schools to serve as mentors. The work, training, mentoring and team-building will focus on individual development, community collaboration and bridge-building between church and school, city and family, Aston and Chester, and Aston Church and TMT.
Capital Presbyterian Church, Harrisburg, PA
Presbytery of Carlisle
The congregation is creating projects to be known as “Headed No Where Fast” and “Changing Directions,” which are youth programs that deal with pressing issues that the African American community face, especially the African American male. As a part of those programs, a “Cognitive Thinking” workshop will expound on topics like violence prevention, anger management mentorship, drug and alcohol counseling, high impact intervention, tutoring, professional/social development, public speaking, financial literacy, computer skills training, peer networking and faith-based volunteerism.
The first-year goal of the program is to help reduce the juvenile delinquency rate, improve graduation rates and reduce violent crimes among African American males ages 10-18, making them productive members of society while creating a much safer community. Capital Presbyterian Church plans to work with Breaking the Chains, Inc.; the NAACP and Messiah College to achieve this endeavor.
Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, Bridgeport, OH
Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery
Called “Ancient Traditions/Modern Values,” this project will use African American mentors working in collaboration with African Haitian leaders to challenge junior high males to incorporate values into their lives – values that are based on ancient wisdom (the Scriptures) lived out in modern times. Based on the demographics of the community, it is expected that most of the junior high males will be African American, but males from any ethnic background will be able to participate.
While the students are using the curriculum, mentors will demonstrate to and instruct students African drumming techniques and other cultural values. Field trips to congregations and community groups in which drumming will be performed are also part of the program.
Pine Street Presbyterian Church, Harrisburg, PA
Presbytery of Carlisle
Downtown Daily Bread, an organization that has been serving the poor and homeless of Harrisburg for more than 30 years, is a mission of Pine Street Church that currently offers a daily lunch, showers, lockers, clothing, mail delivery and counseling services. With the Freedom Grant, Downtown Daily Bread will team up with the Tri-County OIC Adult Learning Center to offer life-skills classes four days a week. The goal is to offer classes in content areas that will improve the clients’ abilities to use technology to access information and services, develop employment skills and improve basic literacy skills in reading, writing and math.
If the project is successful in the first year, its expenses will be incorporated into the annual budget of Downtown Daily Bread. In addition, after an initial period of operation, qualified volunteers will be sought, therefore decreasing staffing costs in the future.
Shiloh Presbyterian Church, Oxford, PA
Presbytery of Donegal
Shiloh Presbyterian Church is working with the greater Oxford area by supporting MANUP (Mentoring African American Males and Nurture Under God’s Protection). The objective is to develop an initial project or pilot program that will enable the congregation to reach out and attract more men for the purpose of uniting them to meet and study the Word as well as participate in recreational activities.
Some ideas have been to mentor and provide some direction to those in need of job assistance, work with other groups/agencies in the area around drug abuse counseling, family counseling, etc., along with providing some recreational activities that all could enjoy. More importantly, the congregation as a ministry wants to collectively be there for the men and provide the needed encouragement they need to learn and “walk with God.”