Faith-Based Investing | May 2, 2023

Can Black churches spark a revival in Jackson, Mississippi?

David Bank
ImpactAlpha Editor

David Bank

ImpactAlpha, May 2 – Jackson, Miss., a predominantly Black city of 150,000 people, has faced water, sewer and hospital crises and most recently the takeover of some police and court functions by the state government.

The focus of last week’s Neighborhood Economics conference in Jackson, however, was not crisis, but resilience; not liabilities, but assets.

“There’s been a disservice in describing this place,” Neighborhood Economics’ Leroy Barber said to open the event. “We are not here to help poor old Jackson. We are here to learn love, resilience and community from people who live it every day.”

Neighborhood Economics’ Kevin Jones recapped the conference on last week’s Impact Briefing podcast. Some takeaways: 

Church assets

Like pastors across the country, Jackson’s Black church leaders have untapped assets, primarily in land and real estate.

“The bread and butter of this thing are our pastors,” said Shonda Allen of Working Together Jackson. “Every economic entity intersects at the Black church in Jackson, Mississippi.”

The Rev. Jimmie Edwards’ Rosemont M.B. Church, for example, has amassed 120 parcels around the church in the West Jackson neighborhood known as The Bottom and is building community gardens and school partnerships, with plans to develop affordable housing. Most members of Rosemont’s congregation no longer live nearby.

“We adopted the wrong model,” said Crossing Capital Group’s Sidney Williams, himself a pastor in New Jersey and co-founder of the Oikos Institute for Social Impact which helps churches leverage their assets for community benefit. “We left behind the people in the census tracts where our churches used to be. And so part of it is we have to return back to those communities.”

Impact real estate

Ownership of assets was at the heart of racial wealth-building strategies on display at Neighborhood Economics.

“We can change generational wealth in one generation by creating an owner of an asset, something to transfer,” said Wilson Lester of Partners in Equity, a North Carolina fund that helps primarily Black business owners acquire the buildings in which they operate (see Lester on Agents of Impact Call No. 50).

Chicago Trend’s Lyneir Richardson is raising a fund to revitalize commercial corridors in low-income neighborhoods and let community members invest in the projects. “The ultimate risk mitigation is those people who will patronize and protect and respect the asset that is in their community,” Richardson said.

In Kansas City, women-led Local Code is developing its first two commercial projects on the city’s east side.

“Our model is, once the projects are done, we sell them back to the community,” said Local Code’s Ajia Morris. “What we are proud of doing is turning commercial real estate into an asset that low- to moderate-income people can buy into.”