P.O.W.E.R. (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild) is the new congregation-based community organization Michael has been working on creating with other Protestant, Catholic and Jewish clergy and lay folks for the last year.
Still not sure what this “community organizing” is all about? Read on, but even better come to the Assembly on Sunday, June 5 @ 3 pm at Mt. Tabor AME (at 961 North 7th Street, right below Girard), and see it in action. The best way to understand the strategies, potential and “magic” of community action is to see people at work together making a difference for the whole city.
Though Philadelphia has had earlier faith-based community organizations, Michael believes this city needs one NOW– desperately! The social problems individual congregations face– hunger, homelessness, unemployment, ineffective schools, criminal justice, healthcare, addiction– are bigger than the resources of even the most faithful, creative and loving congregation.
POWER unites people of different races, faith traditions, income levels and neighborhoods around the shared motivations of their faith to promote the common good. Those relationships can build the capacity of congregations to address the social and political issues facing this city through policy change. POWER is about creating a faith-filled voice for change in Philadelphia. It gives the religious community and its agenda an effective way to challenge the competing and sometimes very different agendas pushed forcefully by corporate and business interests or government bureaucracies.
POWER has received organizing support from the PICO National Network, which is comprised of 44 affiliate organizations in 15 states. POWER has already been funded by the financial contributions of participating congregations, as well as recent grants from the Philadelphia Foundation, the Hilles Fund, the Bread & Roses Community Fund, the William Penn Foundation, the Samuel S. Fels Fund, the Presbyterians and the Catholic Archdiocese.
Leaders from more than 35 congregations have been involved; collectively these congregations have a membership of approximately 15,000 people. Since Fall 2010, POWER has brought together and provided initial organizing training to more than 300 lay and clergy leaders from these congregations. Conducting more than 650 one-on-one interviews with their peers, those faith leaders have identified 5 main themes of struggle and hope from these conversations. On May 15th, 85 leaders from 25 POWER congregations met to analyze and prioritize the results of POWER’s initial outreach and research work. This work will help us form a collective Vision for Change that will guide our organizing work at both the neighborhood and city-wide levels:
Education: address funding/resource inequities; improve neighborhood schools; emphasis on leadership development.
Jobs: improve high schools, community colleges, job training to prepare young people to work; push a mayoral strategy for job creation for the city.
Public safety: reduce gun violence; increase re-entry programs for people who have been incarcerated.
Housing: preventing foreclosures and improve the city’s system for dealing with vacant and blighted properties.
Healthcare: increase access to affordable healthcare; increase compensation for lowest-paid healthcare workers.