Tonight we attended a fundraising banquet for the Bradley Initiative for Church and Community (BICC). BICC is a faith-based community development organization. I am Vice-chairman of the Board of Directors and I chair the organization’s Vision Commission. BICC is twelve years old. It was started by and continues to be directed by Brenda Hughes. Brenda is a member of New Covenant. She grew up here in Bradley County, as a teen married an emotionally abusive minister, worked two and three jobs at a time to provide for her three children, and in her forties got the courage to divorce and start life over. It was at New Covenant she found the strength to dream of making a difference in our community and received a divine call to college in preparation to fulfill the dream.
Brenda first attended Berea College in Kentucky and then transferred to Eastern University in Pennsylvania where she studied under Tony Compolo. Her bachelor’s thesis was titled “The CPR of Hope” and offered a model for community development that centered on the renewal of hope within the marginalized. I was able to connect her with Tina Willemsma, the Director of the Commission on Religion in Appalachia (CORA) and a friend of mine. CORA was planning to help fund the creation of community development organizations that followed a model of unifying churches in a community listening project designed to identify the systemic causes of social problems and develop programs to address them. With the promise of support from CORA, Brenda returned to Cleveland with a vision for community development here.
The initial funding from CORA enabled Brenda to crystalize the concept of BICC and start spreading the dream among the pastors and community leaders of Cleveland. God gave her favor and BICC was born. Over the past twelve years of listening, consulting, studying, planning, and working hard, BICC has had phenomenal success in addressing social concerns in Bradley County. Those accomplishments include the creation of the Bradley Initiative Credit Union with a low income designation, a matched-savings program, a Commission on Racial Equality, the REACH Adult High School, the Starfish Program for in-home early childhood parenting education, a youth mentoring program, and a youth leadership development program. These and other projects are all the product of dozens of churches and hundreds of people working with a shared vision of building a better place for all of our citizens to live.
I am thankful to have been a part of this social miracle. I am blessed to have been Brenda’s pastor throughout this effort, blessed to witness her emergence from shame to influence. I am blessed to have traveled this journey of effective community development. I am blessed to have become friends with a broad cross section of people I would have otherwise not known; many are pastors and lay leaders from various denominations: Baptist, Pentecostal, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Independent, etc. I am blessed to be a part of a congregation that has quietly supported this ministry, often from the shadows; tonight we had at least eighteen of our New Covenant Family at the banquet – 18 of 280.
Tonight was a reminder of God’s favor on our lives. Cheryl and I had resisted returning to Cleveland largely because of the socio-economic divide here. The wealthy and middle class seemed ignorant of the working poor, literally, the other side of the railroad tracks. When we did return, our hope was to find a way to bridge that gap. But we found ourselves struggling to survive and ill equipped to make a difference. Now, twenty-six years later I can look back and say God has let us be a part of something great that is making a difference in people’s lives. He has even let us contribute a little to the process. I am thankful.
November 8, 2010