Isaiah gathering encouraged “faith in democracy”

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An estimated crowd of 3,200 persons, including 200 clergy members, came together last Sunday at St. Paul’s RiverCentre to reaffirm their commitment to work together toward a fair and strong community. ISAIAH, a nonpartisan coalition of 90 Minnesota congregations across Minnesota, hosted “Time to Believe: Faith in Democracy” October 12 at St. Paul’s RiverCentre.

The MSR previously reported on a smaller event held May 29 in North Minneapolis (“ISAIAH commits to North Side ‘repair job,’” June 5 issue), which also featured music, statements from various community members, and pledges from elected officials.

“We have a simple message, but it’s big,” claimed Rev. Grant Stevensen of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in St. Paul and ISAIAH president. “We are really one body. For example, if you cut off North Minneapolis, you cut off a part of the body, and that hurts everybody. If you cut off Frogtown, where my parish is near, or the old Rondo, you diminish us.

“I think there is a growing understanding across racial lines and across denominational lines that we have to work together,” Stevensen said.

Among Sunday’s key speakers was Rev. Kelly Chatman, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis, who used the Isley Brothers’ classic hit “Work to Do” as his theme. The audience loudly echoed the song’s “We’ve got work to do” refrain as he checked off affordable housing, access to health care, and employment as top areas of concern.

The Bible speaks of Jesus’ concern for all, and that same concern applies today, Chatman pointed out: “Jesus says, ‘Don’t just go to Wall Street [or] Main Street, but also go to the Martin Luther King Boulevards as well.”

Rev. Paul Slack of New Creation Church in Brooklyn Park said that everyone must be committed to a healthy community. “For any of us to become healthy, we all must become healthy. If one of us is sick, we all are sick,” he told the crowd.

St. Paul “should not be the tale of two cities, the well-to-do and politically connected that thrives [while] the powerless communities of color still remain horrible,” said Mount Olivet Baptist Church Pastor Rev. James Thomas. He added that many of his church members are concerned about the proposed Central Corridor light rail project, which reminds them of what the construction of Interstate 94 did to the Rondo neighborhood in the 1950s.

“It left a large hole in Rondo that has yet to be healed,” said Thomas. “Many in the community see the light rail project as history repeating itself.” Amidst rousing applause, Thomas strongly disagreed with those who hint that the community should have no say in the transit project: “The health of our community is our business and remains our permanent interest and concern.”

Two elected officials and two U.S. senatorial candidates also spoke at Sunday’s event. Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson said, “One of my goals is committed to a healthy Minnesota. When our goals are on the health of the people, the policies will follow.”

Senate Assistant Minority Leader David Hann said that learning how to solve human problems is “the problem of our time” facing lawmakers. U.S. Senate candidate Dean Barkley said organizations such as ISAIAH “give me hope that maybe we can turn our country around,” adding that issues must be prioritized by lawmakers.

“I think we need a basic change in our priorities,” added U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken. “My priority is that everyone in this country can work at a meaningful job.”

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar said she believes that she and her fellow lawmakers must continue to work to solve current problems not just for now “but seven generations from now.”

“We have to continue to engage all of our elected officials and people of faith throughout the state of Minnesota in order for people to really want to believe that something new is possible,” Chatman pointed out. The large gathering then broke up into six regional meetings where specific topics were discussed.

Pastor Hattie Horne, whose True Love Ministries is located in the Harrison neighborhood, and Brother John Kerr of St. Bridget’s Catholic Church of North Minneapolis both spoke at the Minneapolis regional breakout session. Both support the proposed Basset Creek Valley development project.

“This development will bring new jobs, affordable housing and hope for that neighborhood,” said Kerr. Horne said she believes the proposed project “will bring energy and respect to the North Side.”

Kerr asked Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels, who also attended the meeting, if he would vote to include a community benefits agreement if Ryan Companies is awarded exclusive rights to build the project when the council meets later this month. “ISAIAH is not against the development,” Kerr stated, “but we are against any [council] member who continues to doubt our ability to know what we [as a community] need.”

“I commit myself in the negotiations with the developers in creating the process that will provide jobs, contracts for minorities and women, and affordable housing,” Samuels pledged.

Laurie Beckman Yetzer, a member of Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield and an ISAIAH leader, said she presently has no reasons to doubt Samuels. “He said he is going to lead the charge with his fellow council members. I trust and hope that that is true, and I will take him at his word.”

Harrison Neighborhood Association organizer Malik Holt said that the entire city council should support racial and economic equity, especially in his neighborhood. “We are hoping that they all can get behind actually mitigating racial disparities and economic gaps in Harrison and the North Side,” he said.

St. Paul City Council Member Melvin Carter III said he was inspired seeing “this many people of faith in one place” pledging to work together for change. “This was incredible for me. It ended up being my second church service of the day.”

People need their spirits revived, Chatman noted. “There are challenging days ahead. I believe this gathering was a source of encouragement.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.