The West / Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation is a network of broad-based institutional organizations building power to revitalize our democracy for constructive social and economic change. We are part of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation's first and largest network of community organizations.
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Tired of nothing seemingly happening to better God’s world, the 1,300-member Westminster Presbyterian Church, located in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, decided it was time to join ranks with other churches and organizations through the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF)...
[IAF affiliate] Together West Michigan, comprised of 20-plus organizations seeking to create substantive change in the greater Grand Rapids area, was exactly what Westminster wanted to get involved with.
According to the Rev. Lynette Sparks, senior pastor of Westminster, Together West Michigan — whose name was chosen for easy translation into Spanish — is about building relationships and encouraging people and institutions to come together to make change.
“Jesus was about building relationships across lines, and we are about building power and defining power as the ability to act. Power itself is neutral. How you use it is what matters,” she said, adding, “So many families don’t have a voice or the power to right the injustices they encounter, but churches and secular organizations do — especially when they join together for a common cause.”
[Photo Credit: Westminster Presbyterian Church]
PC(USA) Churches Are Changing the World, Presbyterian Mission [pdf]
In advance of 2021 School Board elections in Jefferson County, Coloradans for the Common Good (CCG) assembled over 300 people at Trinity Presbyterian Church for a non-partisan candidate accountability session. All six school board candidates were asked "yes or no" in regard to increasing wages for education support professionals and increasing access to healthy food.
All six candidates said yes. After the election, CCG worked alongside member institution Jeffco Education Support Professional Association (JESPA) to hold the recently elected candidates accountable to their commitment. The work resulted in higher wages for school workers and healthier food options for Jeffco students. Andrea Cisneros, a leader with JESPA and CCG, tells the story of how it happened:
“Some parents got ahold of our union and asked us how to get better food that’s more culturally relevant to what they eat at home....”
“Parents were upset and didn't know what steps to take. They joined us and the Coloradans for the Common Good, … and, together, we set up a game plan.” JESPA [Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association] is a member of Coloradans for the Common Good, a broad-based organization comprised of over 30 local institutions, including congregations, unions, non-profits, and neighborhood organizations, committed to the common good of all people.
The game plan was to grow their network of support among the community, partner with groups familiar with farm-to-table approaches, visit other districts that were serving healthy foods, and push their elected officials or any candidate running for office, at the time, to publicly support JESPA’s efforts.
JESPA ... successfully negotiated a pilot program that will replace junk food and highly processed prepackaged food with healthier, scratch-cooked options. Plus, menu creation will include parent and student voices and will have more culturally relevant options. The pilot will start in three schools: an elementary, middle, and high school.
While the menu is still in progress, Cisneros hopes to serve quesadillas, enchiladas, or homemade burritos, instead of frozen burritos in a packet.
“We realized that we have more power together, … and we couldn’t have done this without the support from our parents and community,” she adds.
[Photo Credit: NEA Today]
Bastrop Interfaith and Friends of the Land, a farmland preservation coalition, worked with local Elgin residents and landowners to defeat a 10-year Chapter 313 corporate tax abatement at the Elgin ISD School Board last night by a unanimous vote. Solar Proponents, a startup owned by an oil and gas hedge fund, would have clear-cut over 2,100 acres of trees bisected by Little Sandy Creek to build an industrial solar farm. While the community had been testifying monthly since May at the school board meetings against the project, last night was the first time the public got to hear from Solar Proponent about the project. Speakers argued the project endangered Greenbriar Community School and neighboring homes with water runoff in an area already prone to flooding with an already diminishing refuge for wildlife.
“In these past six months, we haven’t heard a single person speak in favor of this project. Compare that to more than 1100 signers of our petition to stop this project and all the comments here you have so patiently listened to since then,” said Skip Connett, a leader with Bastrop Interfaith and founder of Friends of the Land at last night’s school board meeting.
“We spoke for our communities and our trees. Our school board listened,” Connett said after the vote.
This past May, Bastrop Interfaith and Friends of the Land, one of its member institutions, opposed the initial Chapter 313 application which would have given the company a 10-year school property tax abatement from Elgin ISD. Chapter 313, Texas’s largest corporate welfare program, costs taxpayer $1Billion/year to fund these tax breaks, money which could be going to public schools. Chapter 313’s reauthorization was killed last legislative session by Bastrop Interfaith and the Texas IAF along with allies. However, the program doesn’t expire until this December, and there has been a rush of nearly 500 applications by companies looking to get tax breaks before the deadline.
Bastrop Interfaith Commends Elgin ISD Board for Rejecting Chapter 313 Deal
Friend of the Land, Bastrop Interfaith Oppose Dogwood Creek Solar 313 Application to Elgin, Elgin Courier
Delegation of West/Southwest IAF leaders and organizers stands with Pope Francis. [Photos credit: Rabbi John Linder]
Our network had the rare opportunity to visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
An interfaith delegation of 20 leaders and organizers from the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation met with him to share our collective work of broad based organizing at a time when the Pope is guiding the global church in a historic Synod listening process.
The Holy Father sat side by side with us in his residence, thanking us for inconveniencing ourselves to come see him. What ensued was a true dialogue, a 90-minute conversation in Spanish with lots of back and forth engagement. The encounter was filled with many graced moments about both the joys and the struggles of our work, and the work of the Church, past, present, and to come.
This invitation to meet was in large part due to the recognition of our work by local Bishops, particularly those involved with the 'Recognizing the Stranger' strategy, which is dedicated to formation and leadership development of immigrant parishioners. As well, our involvement to support the Synod process in multiple dioceses has helped to bring those in the margins to the center of the synodal dialogue.
As we shared our experiences of organizing, we were struck by how carefully he listened, asked questions, and engaged with lots of humor. Early on, he reflected back to us, “Usaron mucho las palabras ‘ver’ y ‘escuchar,’... Me impresiona que ninguno de ustedes es parte de alguna teoría. Ninguno dice ‘leí un libro y me interesó eso.’” (You constantly use the words “to see” and “to listen.. I am impressed that none of you start with any theory. No one says ‘I read a book and that interested me.’) “El peligro es intelectualizar el problema” (The danger is when you intellectualize a problem).
He stressed the importance of being with people and paying attention to their reality, emphasizing Amor Concreto, love concretely in action, saying that he understood our work as seeing and hearing of injustice in the real lives of our people, acting to change the situation, and being changed ourselves as a result. He expressed his appreciation for our focus on what we are doing, rather than to complain about what is not being done or to disparage anyone. “Ustedes no menospreciaron a nadie.”
Before concluding, he thanked us for our visit, saying that although he had never known of IAF before, he was glad that he knew us now, and he welcomed further conversation around our continuing work with the Synod process.
We teach that power recognizes power. For Pope Francis, “el verdadero poder es el servicio,” (“true power is service”). Recounting the Good Samaritan, he clearly stated that the Gospel cannot be understood without acting with those who are suffering. He recognized the leaders and organizations of the IAF and the powerful work that is happening every day at the margins. He referred to the IAF as “Good News for the United States.”
We are humbled to represent the many decades of work from those who preceded us, and we are encouraged in the continuation of our work into the future.
Reverend Minerva Camarena Skeith of St. John's Episcopal Church explains to Jon Stewart how Central Texas Interfaith/Texas IAF organizations fight corporate incentives that negatively impact public budgets, including schools.
“What’s happening right here, right now, very powerful.” -- Jon Stewart
In a Behind the Scenes Cut, Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith describes how communities can organize.
Full episode and panel discussion streaming on Apple TV+.
In meetings with Hays County Commissioners, Corridor Interfaith leaders in Central Texas emphasized the importance of workforce development in one of the fastest growing counties in the county. The Commissioners Court responded, increasing its public investment in long-term job training by 10% to $55,0000 in the upcoming fiscal year.
Capital IDEA graduate Mary Helen testified, saying: "After working as a paramedic... I went back to college and earned my RN degree. I currently work as an ICU nurse at Ascension Seton Network and provided care to the first COVID patients in our region."
"Imagination. With empty lots and abandoned swaths of land, we had to imagine something else."
That is how the Rev. David Brawley, of St. Paul Community Baptist Church and East Brooklyn Congregations/Metro IAF, described the start of what has emerged as "the most consequential community development effort in the country."
Ted Koppel, with CBS Sunday Morning, interviewed Metro IAF leaders Rev. Brawley and Sarah Plowden of St. Paul, as well as affordable housing developer Kirk Goodrich to tell the story of how imagination and sustained institutional power resulted in a $1.5 Billion wealth-building equity strategy for first-time homeowners in low-income African-American and Latino neighborhoods in East Brooklyn, DC, Jersey City, Chicago and Baltimore.
It took imagination and power to secure commitments from Democratic Mayor Ed Koch for the cheap purchase of empty city lots and subsidies for building -- as well as from Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani to ensure there was enough money in the budget for the Spring Creek development.
Over 6,500 first-time homeowners have benefited from Nehemiah housing. Physical homes may be the foundation, but it is homeowners who have breathed new life into their communities, demonstrating the vitality of the American Dream.
In photos at right: Matilda Dyer from St. Paul's shares her story; affordable housing developer Kirk Goodrich explains why the Nehemiah strategy is the "most consequential community development effort in the country"; Matilda Dyer, describes how her initial application for home ownership was an 'act of faith'; and Sandra and Armando Martinez detail their journey to ownership of the home their call their "palace."
[Image Credit: CBS News Sunday Morning]
Nehemiah: Making the American Dream Possible for First-Time Homeowners, CBS News Sunday Morning
These Chicago Residents are Trying to Revitalize their Neighborhood Without Gentrification, Washington Post [pdf]
The American Dream: One Block Can Make All The Difference, National Public Radio [pdf]
Behind Brooklyn Neighborhood’s Rebirth, a Woman Who Joined in a Dream, New York Times [pdf]
In a Sea of Foreclosures, an Island of Calm, New York Times [pdf]
Brooklyn Nehemiah Homeowners Associations
St. Paul Community Baptist Church
East Brooklyn Congregations
Nehemiah Spring Creek
While no formal vote was held, the council said it wanted to see more of a model presented by Common Ground, a non-partisan group of religious and non-profit organizations in Solano and Napa counties, which is advocating for a three-prong approach: a civilian police commission, inspector general, and community police review agency.
The commission made up of Vallejo residents would be tasked with overseeing a review agency, which would investigate officer use of force, including fatal shootings by officers, any in-custody deaths, and allegations of racial profiling by officers....
“We believe the above components provide the transparency and the community involvement needed to establish police oversight and are a critical step in restoring trust between law enforcement and the community,” said Renee Sykes, a member of Common Ground’s public safety committee. “The national spotlight is still on Vallejo, and it will not be shut off until there is a concerted effort on everyone’s part to make a change.”
[In photo: Common Ground leader Brian Farrell addresses city council during special meeting. Photo Credit: John Glidden, Vallejo Sun]
Vallejo City Council Shows Early Support for Forming Strong Police Commission, Vallejo Sun [pdf]
Vallejo Trying to Meet ‘Common Ground’ Concerning Police Oversight, Times Herald [pdf]
After months of work with leaders in the business, non-profit and education communities, Mountain Voices Project and the Glenwood Community Housing Coalition made a significant step forward in pursuing an investment in local workforce housing.
At the urging of MVP, the Glenwood Springs City Council advanced a ballot proposition for a 2.5% increase in the lodging tax to invest in workforce housing with a 6-1 vote. 15 MVP leaders representing seven member institutions packed the city council chambers during deliberation.
This follows a civic academy at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church where residents and stakeholders learned about the potential impact of this initiative. If approved by voters, the Lodging Tax will increase from 2.5% to 5%, and generate new revenue dedicated for workforce housing strategies.
Leaders plan to educate voters about the ballot proposition in advance of the election.
Lodging Tax to Go to Voters in Glenwood Springs This Fall, Post Independent [pdf]
After hundreds of conversations among workers, labor allies and elected officials, City of Austin voted on a budget that raised the living wage floor for their workers to $20/hr including contracted workers and those employed by corporations benefiting from City tax subsidies. At the urging of Central Texas Interfaith, the City of Austin furthermore expanded emergency assistance for struggling renters and sustained spending on essential human development initiatives including long-term workforce development and after-school programs that the organization had pioneered.
Specifically, the Council approved:
$20/hour base pay for all City of Austin staff, contract employees and employees of corporations receiving City tax subsidies
- $8 Million in emergency rental assistance
- $3.1 Million for long term workforce development
- Increased funding for AISD programs including Parent Support Specialists and Primetime After School programs
Central Texas Interfaith commended the Mayor and the City Council for investing in these important initiatives before turning their attention to the County budget.
Austin Councilmembers Approve Budget Amendment to Include $20 Minimum Wage, KVUE
With sadness, we report the loss of Michael Clements, longtime IAF organizer. He served as organizer with TMO and predecessor organizations of One-LA during a career that spanned four decades.
After supporting farm workers [with United Farm Workers of America], Clements joined the Industrial Areas Foundation, the longest-standing network of local faith and community-based organizations in the nation, and moved to Houston to work for the organization... [Back in California], Clements crossed paths with Fred Ross, Sr....
Said Fred Ross, Jr., a Bay Area-based social justice organizer: “My father respected Mike and saw him as one of the up-and- coming organizers back in 1985.”
Said [Cardinal Roger] Mahony, “He was the epitome of a great community organizer backed up by his wonderful Catholic faith, especially the social teachings of the church, which he knew inside and out from the Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum in 1891 all the way to Pope Francis today.”
[Photo Credit: Scott Smeltzer, Los Angeles Times]
On the Passing of IAF Boardmember Bishop Douglas Miles
by Ernesto Cortes, Jr.
The passing of Bishop Miles is a great loss to all of us. We shared the earth with him for far too short a time.
He modeled character and leadership, while at the same time teaching those who were marginalized how to be their own agents. Of him it could be said that he invited all the challenges of Matthew 25: to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, break free the captives and take in the stranger.
He was a man of faith and a full human being. He embodied Pope Francis’ notion of being a political person. And he was our friend.
We Mourn Together: Bishop Douglas Miles
It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Bishop Douglas Miles, IAF Co-Chair and BUILD Co-Chair Emeritus, passed away August 3, 2021 after complications from heart surgery.
Bishop was a giant of a man, pastor, leader and friend. For more than 50 years, Bishop Douglas Miles (in photo from left, marching with Pastor Prentice at right) has been on the front-lines of every major social change in Baltimore and every major fight led by IAF.
As longstanding Metro IAF and BUILD Leader Carol Reckling said, “It’s almost unfathomable to grasp Bishop’s reach. One way or another he impacted every one of us."
We were blessed with one of the greatest. We are all part of his legacy. We miss him dearly and are reminded of the words from God to the prophet that Bishop often closed out actions with, "Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us? And the voice of the prophet responded, 'Here am I, send me.’”
Let us continue to answer the call and fight the good fight. As we grieve his loss, may his incredible prophetic voice, brilliant wisdom, deep laughter, and shared memory guide us.
Please hold his dear wife Rose Miles, sons Pastor Dante and Harvey Miles, his entire family, Koinonia Baptist Church and BUILD in your prayers.
Bishop Douglas Miles, Who Advocated for Baltimore's Impoverished Residents and Co-Headed BUILD, Dies, Baltimore Sun [pdf]
Sister Christine Stephens, CDP entered eternal life on July 18, 2019 at the age of 78. She was the younger of two daughters born to Walter Irving and Frances Louise (Bulian) Stephens. She was born December 22, 1940 in Austin, Texas and was given the Baptismal name, Mary Christine. She entered the Congregation of Divine Providence on September 7, 1962 and professed first vows as a Sister of Divine Providence on June 22, 1964. Sister Christine graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics prior to entering Our Lady of the Lake Convent. She later earned a Master of Arts in History from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
Sister Christine attributes her faith formation to her parents who set the example of perseverance and seeking justice for one’s family and community. Her father was a member of the pipe fitters union. This foundation served Sister Christine in her first seven years as a teacher, then as a social worker for eight years, and expanded and deepened when she became an organizer 45 years ago.
Sister Christine did not choose organizing as a ministry, it chose her. She was spotted by her now close friend and mentor, Ernesto Cortés, Jr., who said it was her anger that caught his attention. That was the first time she viewed her anger in a positive light. The work of justice was at the heart of her ministry and her life. Her work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) was the vehicle to funnel her anger against injustice.
Sister Christine’s commitment to identifying, training and transforming leaders and organizers throughout the country worked to bring millions of dollars for water and waste water to the colonias along the Texas/New Mexico Border, instrumental in developing the Alliance School strategy that impacted hundreds of schools across the country, plus the creation of nationally renowned job training programs modeled after Project QUEST in San Antonio.
Her advocacy work during the past four decades in her various roles, as National IAF Co-Director and Supervisor of organizations across the IAF Network will be greatly missed. Her organizing career began with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) in Houston where she was a founder, followed by Lead Organizer of C.O.P.S. in San Antonio and Dallas Area Interfaith.
She enjoyed seeing ordinary leaders who worked across multi faith traditions, economic lines and race to do extraordinary things in their communities. She breathed and lived the Gospel values of justice and leaves a legacy to be continued. She had an enduring faith in the values of democracy.
She is survived by her sister Sarah Howell, and all her Sisters of Divine Providence. She is also survived by her niece Angela Duhon (William), their children, Emma and Nathaniel. She was preceded in death by her parents Walter and Frances Stephens.
The Rosary and Wake were Thursday, July 25, 2019 and Mass of Resurrection on Friday, July 26, 2019. All services were held in Sacred Heart Chapel, next to Our Lady of the Lake Convent Center in San Antonio, Texas.
In lieu of flowers, you may make a memorial contribution to the Sisters of Divine Providence, 515 S.W. 24th Street, San Antonio, TX 78207-4619.
Tribute to Sister Christine Stephens, Rio Grande Guardian
Stephens was an Early COPS Organizer, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
Christine Stephens, COPS/Metro Alliance Leader, Remembered for her Faith, Sense of Justice, Rivard Report
Christine Stephens Worked to 'Help Others Advocate for Themselves,' Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Sister Christine Passes Away, Rio Grande Guardian