Earlier this year an exchange of views took place on the MSR editorial pages between columnist Booker T Hodges and contributing writers William English and Rev. Randolph Staten. The subject was an organization called the Coalition of Black Churches/African American Leadership Summit, of which English and Staten often identify themselves as co-chairs. Following that exchange, several readers asked us if we would follow up with a news story or stories about the organization. Here are the results of our first efforts to learn more about the Coalition/Summit.
The Minneapolis daily newspaper’s headline on a story that ran this past May was, “Black church group presses for school contract vote.” The story featured comments from a person who identified himself as spokesman for the Coalition of Black Churches/African American Leadership Summit (CBC/AALS). The University Northside Partnership (UNP) lists the CBC/AALS among its partners. According to the UNP website, the CBC/AALS has been in existence since 1990, and its 13-point agenda includes economic development, eliminating racial profiling, disparities and other issues.
The group’s chairman, Rev. Randolph Staten provided the MSR with a four-page pamphlet titled “Coalition of Black Churches – A Community Action Plan” that was published in 1998. “Almost 100 Minnesota churches have currently signed up for full participation,” the pamphlet claimed.
Questions about the CBC/AALS have been raised before, such as in a Minnesota Public Radio report several years ago on members of the group who filed a lawsuit to prevent the Minneapolis Public Schools from appointing David Jennings as superintendent. Staten was then quoted as saying that criticism of his group was an attack on the Black community.
The organization also was the subject of commentary published by the MSR in March. Since then, the MSR has sought answers to the following questions: What is the CBC/AALS, what constitutes its membership, and does it represent all – or any – area Black churches?
Despite numerous requests for a list of current participating churches, Staten instead told the MSR only of several founding members, which consisted of both ministers and other local individuals such as retired Macalester College professor Mahmoud El-Kati.
“I haven’t been a member for a while, but I’ve always supported it,” El-Kati told us.
Rev. Jerry McAfee, pastor of New Salem Baptist Church, said he, Rev. Earl Miller, Rev. Ian Bethel, Rev. John L. Bowens, Sr., and Rev. Jessie Griffin, along with Staten, are “founding members.” We have been unable to confirm which if any of these “founding members” are still active with the organization, as none returned our messages by press time.
;”The word ‘churches’ is defined as plural and is more than one,” explains McAfee, adding that the CBC initially started with six churches. But when asked for a current list of member churches, he responded, “Do we represent more than one church? Yes, we do. Do we speak for all Black churches? No.”
The MSR contacted numerous Black churches in the area and asked if they are members of the Coalition of Black Churches. Among those pastors who were successfully contacted, Rev. Charles Graham, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Minneapolis, said, “I don’t know who or what the Coalition is. I haven’t heard of that group.”
“I am not familiar with it,” said Pastor Carolyn Berry, one of 12 pastors at River of Life Christian Church in St. Paul.
A person who answered the phone at St. Paul’s Pilgrim Baptist Church said they believe that their pastor, who is on vacation, is not a member.
Rev. Runney Patterson, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in St. Paul, didn’t know the group’s name but said he regularly meets with Staten and other ministers. When asked if he considers himself a CBC member, he responded, “Oh, yeah.”
Pastor Melvin Brown of Bethlehem Baptist said he has never heard of a Coalition of Black Churches, adding that he does not consider his church a “Black church” because his congregation is mixed.
“They do not accept women pastors,” said Rev. Mary Flowers Spratt, pastor of Greater Mount Nebo Community Missionary Baptist Church, to explain why she is not involved with the Coalition.
Seven other churches had not responded to our voice mail messages by press time.
“You [don’t] have to be a pastor to be a part of [the CBC],” McAfee explained. “You don’t have to belong to a church if you didn’t want to. If you were concerned about the community and agree with the agenda that we were working on, you could come and help us out.”
“I am still with the Coalition, and have respect with the leadership,” says Rev. Alphonse Reff, pastor of Wayman AME Church. He joined the CBC several years ago but said he is not as involved with the group as he once was because of other obligations.
The CBC “is just an arm of trying to empower [the community] by utilizing the power of the churches,” continued McAfee. “Randy takes care of the political side. The educational part is up to Bill English to run. Then we [pastors and ministers] would try to use the collective power of the churches who wanted to be a part to help push our agenda. We spoke for some of them, but no one group can speak for all [Black] churches.”
“What brought me to join the group was when I [held] an educational summit to talk about the whole issue of the achievement gap,” said William English, CBC/AALS co-chair. “We called it the African American Leadership Summit. After that summit, Rev. Staten and I decided to bring together social service agencies with the Coalition of Black Churches and form one organization.”
This merger eventually concerned Spike Moss, a former CBC/AALC member. Although not a minister, Moss said he initially got involved with the group to work on civil and human rights issues. “But we never made anything happen,” said Moss, “because whenever someone puts something like that on the table, they [the leadership] talked over it like it didn’t matter. Then they want us to come back next week and meet again and talk all day.”
Moss said he eventually became disenchanted with the way the organization was heading and left the group around 2004. “It wasn’t a thing that you wanted to be a part of,” said Moss. “It disgusts me to the point that I stop coming.”
“We’ve organized marches,” claimed English. “We went to the [Minnesota] Legislature on several occasions, and we’ve held three successful educational summits.”
“Our record stands for itself,” Staten declared.
“The Coalition always has been an issue among Black leaders as to who the top spokesman is,” admitted Reff. “By the Coalition being connected to a religious foundation, it always creates a problem.” He added that all local Black groups should work together “to make an impact” in the community.
Moss said that he is not convinced that anything will change as long as Staten and English are the leaders. “I think that if Randy tells Rev. McAfee to get him some churches, he could get him some. As far as the Leadership Summit, there’s no one standing there but Bill. As far as getting things together and moving in the ways that they talk about, it’s just Randy and Bill.”
“We won’t be meeting twice a month as we used to, but we will be meeting once a month,” announced English. “We are going to form committee structures to work on our various issues that we want to continue to pursue. I don’t know what that will be, but what I do know is, our first goal is political empowerment of African Americans. That’s our number-one objective.”
“I don’t know who’s in [the organization now],” said Moss. “I do know that people don’t go to the meetings anymore. I think it’s tragic that you use our might and our muscle to only talk to Black people, but you haven’t done anything for the community.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.