Third Ward is home to a huge amount of Houston history. It’s also home to a history-making faith-based collaborative known as the Faith in Action workgroup.
The Emancipation Economic Development Council (EEDC) is a collaborative of faith-based organizations, nonprofits, CDCs, businesses, local government entities and other community stakeholders seeking to revitalize and preserve Third Ward’s rich African-American history and makeup. The EEDC’s Faith in Action workgroup focuses on ways to engage churches, temples and mosques in and around Third Ward to contribute to this work of making Third Ward more economically prosperous.
Though 2020 and 2021 saw the group meeting virtually via Zoom, before the pandemic Faith in Action held meetings at the various member locations, meeting most often at Boynton Chapel United Methodist Church, pastored by the group’s chair, Pastor Linda Davis.
Davis was introduced to the group by friends and decided to attend their meetings. She emerged as the group’s leader.
“I was invited to the Faith in Action workgroup meeting by Dr. Robert McGee and Carl Davis, and they were looking for someone to spearhead that group,” recalled Davis. “And by chance I got nominated <laughs> and I was elected chair.”
Davis originally shared those duties with Chris Spellman, but has since taken on the role herself.
“It’s been a joy and it’s been awesome to work in the Faith in Action workgroup,” she said, calling the initiative “a group of collaborators whose focus in to build a healthy, holistic community – spiritually, socially, educationally, economically and physically.”
“There is nothing like a collaboration of faith-based groups that focus on building community,” says one of the group’s founding members, Ken Rodgers. “Faith in Action offers us an opportunity to live out our lives like Jesus and support a community we love, Third Ward.”
Rodgers has gotten full group support of an initiative he started six years ago, Operation Love, which began as his dream to provide the children of 3rd Ward’s Blackshear Elementary with Christmas gifts and snacks to brighten their day. That dream has turned into an annual event that offers Christmas cheer for the entire family, with healthcare clinics, service providers of all types and others providing what amounts to a mini-health and business fair with free food and non-stop entertainment for any and all attendees.
But when asked about favorite Faith in Action-involved events, Operation Love is just one of the answers you’ll hear.
Faith in Action member and longtime church administrator at the Shrine, Rev. Abaynesta Olubunmi, said, “My favorite Faith in Action event was the dentist program set up at the Emancipation Park Community Center and the ongoing efforts to side in community service and improvement.”
The dentist program to which Olubunmi refers was sponsored by the four United Methodist churches in Third Ward, of which Davis’ Boynton Chapel is one, in partnership with Texas Mission of Mercy.
“We served 544 persons for dental care but had to turn away 3,500,” said Davis. “We had the full support of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Mayor Sylvester Turner where we were able to use facilities and officers and programs from the City of Houston. It was an awesome program that ended up being over a million dollar-plus grant opportunity.”
Davis said dentists came from all across Texas to lend their expertise to provide their services for individuals who could not afford dental care coverage.
Davis, a big fan of collaborations, brought on the Emancipation Park Conservancy which provided the space and location for the event, the EEDC with Faith in Action, and many other partners.
Davis’ favorite event took place in 2018 when the group hosted over 30,000 youth volunteers in town for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s bi-annual conference.
Working in partnership with Mayor Turner’s Complete Communities Initiative, Faith in Action coordinated community service opportunities for ELCA youth including mural paintings at Alfredia’s Restaurant, KCOH and Blackshear Elementary, community clean-up around ChangeHappens and SHAPE, work in churches like Boynton UMC, the Shrine of the Black Madonna, Riverside UMC, Trinity and Trinity East UMC, TSU Community Garden, Yates High School, Burnett Bayland Park and many others.
After three days of service, visiting volunteers gathered at Emancipation Park where they were able to hear from Mayor Turner, then Councilmember Amanda Edwards and Texas Southern University’s Dr. Thomas Freeman who shared Houston history and thanked ELCA youth and leaders for their service to the Bayou City.
Faith in Action members also volunteered their time to help maximize voter participation in the November 2020 elections.
Project Voter Turnout 2020 (PVT), founded by retired UH professor Dr. Grace Butler, endeavored to provide traditional transportation to the polls in an untraditional way. Instead of operating on Nov. 3 (election day), PVT transported “souls to the polls” on seven days during early voting.
Faith in Action member Juanita Jackson joined PVT early on and successfully brought on several other members to participate as coordinators, van drivers, and more.
Davis says to group has even more good works in store for 2022.
“We’re going to do a big push with reference to food insecurity and food scarcity in our community. We have so many churches that have pantries and so many opportunities for community gardens. So, we want to be able to provide better quality food for the residents of Third Ward.”
We also want to continue to work an affordable housing. We know that housing is in great need in the Houston community and even in the Third Ward community. We want to continue working on crime and public safety, so, we will continue to partner with our police chief, Troy Finner, with reference to how we can better strengthen the relationships between the community and the police.”