In September of 2017, in honor of the Synod of the Trinity’s 300th birthday, we awarded five Freedom Grants to congregations in our region. Freedom Grants were available for seed projects relating to a General Assembly priority around the plight of the African-American male. The congregations 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 is a report from Graham Robinson, the co-director of the Freedom House Executive Committee. The Freedom House is an initiative of Aston Presbyterian Church and Thomas M. Thomas Presbyterian Church in Chester, PA.
Two and half years ago the sessions of Aston Presbyterian and Thomas M. Thomas Memorial Presbyterian Church (TMT) started to dream of how they could address the challenges facing their community. They began by worshiping together, having meals together, and even going to the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture together. They considered how they could address significant issues facing their community, including educational and vocational opportunities, advocacy, addiction and the high-school-to-prison pipeline.
The Synod of the Trinity was one of the first bodies willing to invest in this creative partnership between two churches only 10,000 feet apart but separated by cultural divides and I-95. Much has been learned and accomplished. The Freedom House LLC has been formed, and a theatre arts and advocacy program has served high-school students from Chester and the surrounding area. VMA and Ballinger architects surveyed the Freedom House property on Martin Luther King Day, and renderings for the Freedom House building have been completed.
The Freedom House building next to TMT will be the site where students from Chester and the surrounding area learn construction skills while building a health center for some of the most under-served residents of Chester. With drawings in hand, elders like Louis Morse are engaging in conversations to promote the Freedom House. The students and supervisors are ready, funds have been donated for materials and stipends, and leaders are in dialogue with the local tech school and general contractors to make sure the Freedom House is safe for the training program. The Construction Skills Program is scheduled to begin in 2020, and the Freedom House Health Center is expected to open its doors to serve young families and formerly incarcerated mothers in 2022.