by Sean Yoes
The Crossroads restaurant inside the Radisson Cross Keys in North Baltimore bills itself as, “the premier location for a power breakfast.”
Of course the city’s veteran power brokers are well aware of that fact without the eatery’s advertisement. So, it’s no accident a group of prominent Baltimore pastors have been meeting at the Crossroads every Tuesday morning for breakfast for the last two years.
“There should be effective and forceful advocacy; advocacy in action creates change in policy and change in practices,” explained the Rev. Dr. Alvin Hathaway Sr., senior pastor of Union Baptist Church, the unofficial spokesperson for the group of ministers known as, “the doctors.”
“Due to our experience and training, through our academic and theological training this can form a new paradigm for urban ministry…we see examples of it around the country but, we believe that the paradigm that we are creating is one that is worthy of critical thought,” Hathaway added.
Few would argue the demand for effective urban ministry – although the need has never really waned – may be more critical now than ever.
In addition to Hathaway, the doctors, who are also pastors, consist of J.L. Carter, Ark Church in East Baltimore; Arnold Howard, Enon Baptist Church, West Baltimore; S. Todd Yeary, Douglas Memorial Community Church, West Baltimore; Lester McCorn, Pennsylvania Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church, West Baltimore; Darron McKinney, Macedonia Baptist Church, West Baltimore and Floyd Blair, the mission developer for Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, West Baltimore.
The group contends their individual ministries as well as their collective tangible accomplishments in advocacy in areas like jobs and education, have positively impacted the city’s most desperate communities.
Specifically, the doctors have forged partnerships with a number of troubled schools like Booker T. Washington Middle, Furman-Templeton Elementary and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary and in some cases embraced the tenets of charter school education, with clear caveats.
“In targeted instances where there’s full community support and community buy-in…then it (charter schools) is an option because it permits a continuum of the culture of excellence and participation that’s critical for any school,” Hathaway said. “It has to be – not an entity that comes in and gives a proposal to manage an entity because they see that there’re dollars – it has to be organic coming out of the community,” he added.
The group’s work on the massive State Center Project has probably opened the eyes of many in Maryland’s development community among others.
“We looked critically at the State Center Project and its agreement between the developer and the state and we reasoned that they needed strengthening in the area of economic inclusion,” Hathaway said.
“So, we began to work with them, the state, the development community and out of that we created an economic inclusion plan that has been signed…that is being touted as a model,” he added.
That comprehensive plan – spearheaded primarily by Hathaway and his church Union Baptist – is a partnership with the ambitious State Center Project that provides hundreds of jobs, training and investment over the course of several years for some of the city’s most impoverished communities.
Unfortunately, the project is mired in law suits and controversy, but the doctors maintain their leadership on State Center provides a blueprint for success in the future. More specifically they argue they are creating viable working relationships with all levels of government and the private sector, which will serve their communities for generations.
“Over time sources within our city and people of interest and influence recognize that we’re operating in a way that is organized and they respect organization,” Hathaway said. “
“We find ourselves now in on boards and in organizations that are asking our opinion and seeking our advice,” Hathaway added.
Yeary of Douglas Memorial characterized the group’s approach and advocacy on State Center as an example of, “nationalism, not Colonialism.”
“What State Center managed to do was to help us learn some principles about conversations that help us to update how we engage in these conversations,” Yeary said. “So…participating in that (project) establishes a commitment and a credibility to be able to work with partners that have different issues, different needs,” he added.
Yeary, Hathaway and the others understand their roots in the communities they serve are directly linked to another group of activist clergy, the legendary civil rights fighters known as, “the Goon Squad,” who operated primarily from the 1960’s to the 1980’s.
“We clearly recognize, affirm, value and appreciate what the Goon Squad did,” Yeary said. “We inherited an opportunity that our predecessors didn’t have, so we have to be willing and courageous enough to do it differently, but still appreciate that they established a beginning framework.”
“Our predecessors had their day and they were very successful and productive in their day. This is a new day and this new day requires a new paradigm,” Hathaway said.
“We’re not attempting to resurrect the past, we’re going to honor it and we’re going to build upon it.”