In this column we will discuss the result of a lengthy H.I.T investigation – we will examine the Coalition of Black Churches/African American Leadership Summit (COBC/AALS). To date, I would say that this has been one of our most requested investigations.
This group is often quoted in newspapers as speaking on behalf of the African American community, so to investigate who they are is, in my opinion, perfectly legitimate. I don’t want to bash this group, and I think that our investigation revealed more questions than answers.
The Coalition of Black Churches/African American Leadership Summit started off as Operation Resurrection in the early 1990s. From what we can tell, Operation Resurrection still exists today; I think it operates under the Coalition of Black Churches/African American Leadership Summit. I say “I think” because no one seems to know what the organizational structure of COBC/AALS is.
The main figures currently associated with this organization are the Reverends Bill English and Randy Staten. According to news accounts, government documents, and grant-maker publications, this organization has received approximately $4-5 million since 1996. This figure again, like the structure of the organization, is vague and really unknown, because some funds were given to Operation Resurrection and some to COBC/AALS.
We contacted all of the churches under the Spokesman-Recorder’s “Service Listing” and asked them if Reverend Staten or Reverend English were pastors at their church or if their church was a member of COBC/AALS. Every one of them who we were able to reach, 90 percent of them, said that neither Staten nor English was a pastor at their congregation, nor were the churches members of COBC/AALS.
So, who are the members of COBC/AALS? We still can’t answer that question. Are English and Staten really pastors? Yes, they are, although at this time, from what we were able to determine, neither one of them has a congregation that they are leading.
Staten and English often speak on behalf of the African American community.
In addition, they often represent African American interests in high-level meetings that end up having considerable implications for our community.
These two individuals have been involved in discussions and decisions involving over several billion dollars in our community.
That’s crazy when you think about it. The Minneapolis Empowerment Zone alone was a $500 million project, and both of them were actively involved with the Empowerment Zone.
One thing we have found is that these two representing the COBC/AALS are always speaking for African Americans, and often their positions on issues are predictable. I hate to say this, but if you follow the money and determine who is backing what position with what money, you can normally predict what their position on a particular issue is going to be.
I mean, they do need to eat, right? I don’t think professional poverty fighter or community activist are well-paying jobs, but for some, maybe they are.
One thing is for certain: These two representing COBC/AALS have been significant power players for many years in our community. They have helped spawn the political careers of some of the most powerful African American politicians in our state. Many people seeking to obtain elected office in our community often seek the blessing of these two individuals before running.
So what gives them their power when they don’t have a church and no one knows who the members of their organization are? Well, someone once said to me that democracy belongs to those who show up, and if that’s the case, then it belongs to these guys representing the COBC/AALS.
They always show up, and from what we found, this is the true source of their power. For decades they have always shown up, and because of this the media, governmental organizations, foundations, elected officials, and more importantly many members of our community have bestowed upon them the title of community leaders and trusted them to represent the interests of our community.
Many would argue that the trust bestowed upon them has been gravely misplaced.
I won’t comment on that, but what I will say is that they do represent our community because we let them.
Many of us cannot afford to attend all the various community meetings because we have jobs. They are allowed to represent us simply because they have figured out a way to attend all these meetings and get paid at the same time. If you want to find these two, just follow the bread crumbs like you would for the gingerbread man.
So who are the members of COBC/AALS? No one knows, and even we could not find out. I guess when Carly Simon reveals who she was talking about in her song “You’re So Vain,” maybe we will know. Until then, they will continue to represent our community until someone comes along to replace them.
Booker T Hodges welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.