May 29, 2024

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The “Black” Churches In Boston & Beyond Have An Opportunity

rep. carlos henriquez

The “black” churches in Boston & beyond have an opportunity

rep. carlos henriquez
by: Carlos Henriquez  |

I’d like to share an idea my father Julio Henriquez shared with me a few times before he left his physical frame.

This idea is sound in logic but may be tough to execute in practice but I want to share it with you and let you decide. I would take it to the pastors directly but I don’t want to for many reasons, and yes I will enumerate a few. Well one.

I am a former Boston politician and I worked hard to keep church and state separate. My personal beliefs were then and are now that too many pastors are “political”. I am okay with civic activism but I feel since the mid 90s for reasons that I won’t get into now, they have usurped authority from elected officials. Now whether deserved or undeserved can be debated, but another time. A proposal coming from me may seem politically motivated and it’s not and besides I rather talk to the people on their steps one on one. I believe the power rests in people and no leader is greater than any of the people who s/he leads.

We are affected by many things in this world, in this country and more specifically this city. And while our eyes have been on Baltimore, Ferguson and every other city and town we empathize with, I urge you to look at Boston and act.

There are people who plan cities, we have been at the whim of those people. These people are bankers who decide where and to whom they will loan – see redlining – they work closely with city planners at the BRA and City Hall.

In Boston in the 1950s, much of Roxbury was Irish and Blue Hill Avenue from Dudley street to Mattapan had a large Jewish population.Hell, if you look up property owners here, you’ll see residence has changed but building ownership in much of our commercial areas has stayed the same.

Boston in the 70s and 80s, was “white flight”. White families were leaving Boston to live in suburbs for reasons that ranged anywhere from schools to racism. Over the last 10-20 years you’ve heard the grumblings of the gentrification. You’ve seen signs of it, white people jogging Blue Hill Avenue in the morning, white families buying homes in Roxbury’s Fort Hill and Jamaica Plain. “Toonies” on Rutherford Ave. Southie’s condo craze. Homes in your community selling for $500,000 and up when the median income for a family of 4 is $30-40k a year.These are places where 10-20 years ago you would never see this. This is not accidental.

Make no mistake, I have no problem with anyone of any race buying a house anywhere. It is the land of the free. I do however have a problem with the systematic development of a community that displaces the residents that spent a lifetime living there when it was under developed. I feel as strongly about gentrification in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan as I do about it in Charlestown, South End, Jamaica Plain and South Boston. See the correlation is they do it to working class poor black or white. So don’t believe that this is merely a race issue. Are there discriminatory practices based on race? Sure but this isn’t about black and white per say, it’s about green.

Churches in neighborhoods where residents are predominately black are usually led by black men and in most media labelled “Black Churches” same as the elected officials of those communities being labeled the same. The Catholic churches never get called white churches and neither do the elected officials who happen to be white. The Catholic Church, the organization based out of the Vatican owns/sells land, influences policy and does business. But I digress.

In RDM (Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan), there are sooo many churches. Different denominations, languages, store front, mega churches and everything in between. I would love to get an accurate count at some point, maybe the city has it. They are all tax exempt. They pay no property tax. So that land doesn’t create revenue for your neighborhood or city. And I’m not saying it should. I  will say it should have value to the community. I will also say it could have more. We have mega churches. Not $65 million dollar private jet churches but big churches. 1000 plus parishioner churches. 2 to 3 Sunday service churches. You know them. They obviously are seen as valuable by many who worship in those houses of God.

I know their purpose is to save souls and lead people to their salvation. I dig it. In my opinion more can be done. I’m not talking about the regular criticism that more churches need to come from behind their 4 walls and into the community. I’m talking about organizing and I’m talking about financial power. You know the joke about how many times the collection plate may go around, or the ATM machine in the lobby. Well, fact of the matter is people tithe faithfully (pun intended). Every Sunday people give their money to the church, a non-profit, tax exempt organization. Please don’t confuse that with bill exempt. Eversource charges the house of God for light just like they do you and I.

However, a large sum of money goes into the plate and into the counting room and then to the bank. It goes to the bank, the same banks that hold mortgages in RDM. Now, I was raised not to count other people’s pockets or money so I have to use my imagination. But I imagine if the Ten Point Coalition and the Black Ministerial Alliance membership churches were to agree to use their combined financial power to leverage a bank or even create a credit union/financial institution to create fair, affordable loan programs for home-ownership and businesses for the community and its residents it would be a game changer not just locally but nationally. I know you may not know of any major cities in American history with banks run successfully by black people, I do. But I’m not teaching history right now.  What do you think the churches count on a Sunday ? Maybe it is none of my business. But you know whose business it is, you the parishioner, you the deacon/deaconess. You have a fiduciary responsibility to your organization and those that are a part of it. How the money is used is your business and if you want to fight gentrification, if you want to push back against development that displaces people then we have to be realistic. The church, the “black” church is one of the most long-standing institutions in our community and country. It is important for any community to thrive that a dollar circulates six times. Six times. Often ours don’t even circulate twice. We should consider how we can best support organizations that help do this.

I’m not suggesting accounts are merged. I’m not suggesting churches give loans. I’m suggesting that they organize and use the power of their weekly deposits to leverage better loan programs and dollar circulation in our community. But for that to happen, if you choose you will have to lead by sharing with your neighbor to your left and your right and when you have built consensus, approach the deacon board or your pastor with the idea. 

I know you give tithes to the church for them to do the Lord’s work. I offer that God doesn’t spend money, wo/men do. And I recall faith with out work being dead. Have faith that you and your church can create tangible opportunities in your community.

I’m talking self sustainability, what real “freedom” feels like !

About The Author

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  1. Andrew Haile

    Interesting post. I recently gave a talk on Boston’s history of redlining and racial segregation in housing: The elephant in the room with a white guy talking about buying a house in an African-American neighborhood is, of course, gentrification, but the talk was too short to go into that. Still, as we all grapple with the changes happening around us, it’s important not to forget that history.

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