No conversation about the church and economic development is complete without referencing The New Olivet Baptist Church and the Rev. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr. For years, Rev. Whalum and First Lady Sheila Whalum have supported African-American business and literally sent thousands of customers to deserving businesses through their Bust A Move Monday Initiative.
Carlee McCullough: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Rev. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr.: Memphis born, Memphis bred, and when I die I'll be Memphis dead. Melrose High School, Morehouse College, Temple Law School, Memphis Theological Seminary. Sheila Whalum is my queen, and Kenneth, Kortland, and Kameron are my progeny.
CM: How do we raise the social consciousness of our community, especially the African-American community in terms of supporting black businesses?
Rev. Whalum: It's very hard to raise social consciousness when religious leaders are not, themselves, socially conscious. We've been trying to do just that through Bust-A-Move-Monday for a dozen years, yet not a single African-American congregation has bought into black economic empowerment long-term. I'm sorry, but I don't have an answer to your question.
CM: How important is it for church leaders to really address issues in our community, such as the current social economic condition, which includes education, crime, drug addiction, income, wealth and housing?
Rev. Whalum: It's not only important, it's necessary. The unfortunate thing is that so many of us (pastors in particular) are abdicating our responsibility in this vital arena.
CM: Tell us about the initiative, "Bust A Move Monday" and how may we help with such an important program?
Rev. Whalum: B-A-M-M is a 12-year-old initiative Sheila and I started. On the first Monday in every month we select a struggling black-owned business to support. Imagine what a lift you would get if you owned a business that was barely getting by. Then one day, you look up and 300 to 1,000 brand new customers walk in, just because they want to bless you. There's no charge for B-A-M-M, and we don't want discounts and freebies. We just want to spend our hard-earned money with you so you can have a chance to leave wealth for your children.
B-A-M-M is based on the passage in the book of Isaiah that says God's people are the ones responsible for rebuilding, renewing, and repairing our own communities. The only way to do that, really, is with money. Our vision is to "create wealth and to leave wealth for our children's children." And we believe that as we bless others in this manner, God will bless us with the same result.
CM: What has been the greatest challenge for you with Bust A Move Monday?
Rev. Whalum: The greatest challenge is two-fold: One is that the businesses we B-A-M-M usually just aren't ready for us! They can't handle the influx of new customers at one time. Secondly, it's a real challenge to be the only African-American congregation committed to this process long-term. Imagine how quickly we could transform Memphis' economy if just half the black churches in Memphis committed to financially blessing black-owned businesses one day a month? Not thirty days; just one day a month!
CM: What is the greatest reward in helping African-American entrepreneurs?
Rev. Whalum: Don't take my word for this. Just ask some of the people whose businesses we've blessed. Talk to Telisa Franklin of That's Love Florists, or Uncle Lou of Uncle Lou's Wings on Millbranch, or Miss Daisy at Orange Mound Grill. Tell me what they say!
CM: How do we overcome the myth that black business means subpar performance and services?
Rev. Whalum: By facing the fact that some black businesses do provide subpar performance and services. But you don't stop going to McDonald's or Macy's because you have a bad shopping experience, do you? Why is it that we're so patient with everybody but our own people? The market will take care of subpar performers. But at least be willing to give your own people a chance. You'd want someone to patronize your child's business, wouldn't you?
CM: How can a business owner become a part of the BAMM movement?
Rev. Whalum: Simply phone 901-454-7777, or go to the website at www. bustamovemonday.com for details. That's it.
CM: What's the next step for BAMM?
Rev. Whalum: Simple: We just keep doing what we're doing!
CM: Any closing remarks?
Rev. Whalum: I'm really proud of you, Carlee, for the achievements you've made in this community. Keep doing what you're doing.