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Church Leaders: Empowering the African-American community

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth S. Robinson, pastor/CEO of Saint Andrew African Methodist Episcopal Church, guides an enterprise of ministries, funded programs and corporations that stretch the traditional concept of a "church."

As a multifaceted, faith-based, social service and community development agency, a major part of St. Andrew's mission is to actively demonstrate faith by works.

Carlee McCullough: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Rev. Dr. Kenneth S. Robinson: I have been in Memphis about 20 years. I was assigned to St. Andrew in the fall of 1991. My background is that of an urban pastor and physician. I am trained in internal medicine. Over the last 30 years I have been very involved in creating opportunities to improve the health of underserved populations, particularly African Americans that experience such great health inequities and disparities. I am married for 33 years and have two 31-year-old daughters that are also physicians. My wife is senior vice president at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis in addition to being the co-pastor at St. Andrew.

CM: How important is it for church leaders to address issues in our community, such as the current social economic condition, which includes education, crime, drug addiction, income, wealth, housing and poor health?

Rev. Dr. Robinson: It is vitally important because the church, and particularly the black church, is the preeminent institution, which has a long and critical history in providing services, but also providing the biblical, moral, and intellectual guidance to our members and to the community in terms of making good life style choices and living healthy and abundant lives. The black church has become a critical partner and institution in both building healthy communities and helping the persons that we serve live healthy lives.

When we begin to think about the role of church leaders it is important for us to be present in all of those arenas. We must focus on the social determinates of health and our economic situation, which would involve education and employment, overcoming poverty. But it also involves addressing basic needs – clothing, food, providing services and counseling around those areas of economic development and community development.

CM: How do we raise the social consciousness of our community, especially the business community in terms of staying focused by supporting minority- and women-owned businesses?

Rev. Dr. Robinson: We make minority- and women-owned businesses a priority. We do that by both intentionally identifying those entrepreneurial initiatives and recognizing those businesses in our congregations. It involves practicing what we preach and trying to hire, employ and engage minority- and women-owned businesses. We raise the consciousness by lifting up the importance of creating and maintaining the business base in those communities. To some extent, it is about developing new businesses and facilitating the growth of new enterprises. They may be birthed in our own congregations but certainly supported across the board.

CM: What have you done for the economic position of our community that is different from others?

Rev. Dr. Robinson: To me, economics revolve around health. To have a healthy sustainable community you have to have the healthy component, individuals, families and structures in which people can live. Twelve years ago I became aware of the fact that as we were addressing health and clothing issues, many of our residents didn't have adequate or standard housing in which to live.

So we spun off the community development corporation called The Works Inc. Wear Works is our clothing ministry. Food Works is our food ministry. Body Works is our health ministry. We are delighted about The Works because we have developed over 114 units of affordable housing that have allowed people to move out of substandard housing, which didn't have heat in the winter or cooling in the summertime. Alpha Renaissance Housing is the first multi-family development in South Memphis in decades. We also have 34 units of single-family housing.

We offered home ownership for low- to moderate-income individuals that were first time homebuyers. It is a huge economic development project. Those families have instant equity in their homes, which is economic development for the family as well as the community. We also provide housing education counseling services to help people get mortgages. Over 4500 people have received counseling. Over 450 families have been able to avoid foreclosure because of our HUD counseling services. We are a pretty robust, economic-development engine. We have been responsible for over $12 million in economic development, not including the housing. If you add the housing and our church community, we have over $21 million in economic development in South Memphis.

We have a new child care center located at 1492 Mississippi Blvd. that we just cut the ribbon on a few weeks ago. We believe that early childhood education provides the foundation for children, adolescents and young adults to be appropriately involved to break the cycle of poverty and interdependence. We have a K-5 elementary school consisting of 360 children. We are helping these children have a high quality education from the start, which changes their future.

(Contact Carlee McCullough, Esq., at 5308 Cottonwood Road, Suite 1A, Memphis, Tenn. 38118, or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)


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