How Gentrification is Changing Faith-Based Community Engagement

Jonae BrownUncategorized1 Comment

Congregants at St. Mark AME Zion Church in Durham, NC.

The 2019 Black Communities Conference hosted a panel discussion titled Authentically Engage Black Communities through Faith-Based Organizations this past September.  

The discussion focused on the importance of recognizing and leveraging assets in faith-based institutions to improve community well-being.

Deitre Epps, CEO and Founder at Race for Equity, LLC,  facilitated the panel discussion with Dedreana Freeman, co-founder of  Episcopalians United Against Racism, and Georie Bryant, Reynolds Chapman, and Rev. Dr. M Keith Daniel, Durham Cares, Inc. Each of the panelists shared their faith-based experiences while living in Durham. 

Churches and other religious centers can play an important role in connecting neighborhoods and communities to larger institutions in their area, such as government, academia, and business. 

A prevalent topic during this discussion was how communities have changed, moving church members further away from their church homes.  

 “We are asking them to do more than what they have already done in the past,” said Bryant.

In the past, people walked to their church for services. The effects of development and gentrification mean that some residents now live further away from their church, and must commute to services. This can be very inconvenient for someone who may not have the money for transportation or a car. In this case, church members will leave their church home in order to find a church closer to where they live.  

The lack of accessibility for church members to continue fellowship at their home church makes engaging with the community harder. Bryant mentioned that these factors all contribute to what needs to be taken into consideration for improving engagement.  

Epps mentioned that faith-based organizations cannot always give, give, and give without getting the resources or community partnerships they need to serve their church community with quality and care.  

“People usually come to a church in the black community for healing, safety, and resources, but churches also need to be able to have the funding to be able to have the resources,” he explained. 

The discussion concluded with panelists and attendees sharing questions and recommendations on engagement strategies to improve their community.  

Programs like Step Up Durham were highlighted as a faith-based organization that helps individuals and families transform their lives through employment and life skills training. Partnerships like these can help lift the load off churches being the only resource for families in transition from crisis to stability. This stability is both good for church members and their church communities because they are not displaced due to the lack of opportunities and resources to keep them in their communities.    

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