Churches are social service agencies, particularly in the African-American community, says the Rev. Dr. Kenneth S. Robinson, pastor/CEO of Saint Andrew African Methodist Episcopal Church. He expounds on that concept and more in the conclusion to a two-part "On Our Way To Wealthy" conversation.
Carlee McCullough: What are you doing as it relates to improving the awareness of physical health in our community that is different from others?
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth S. Robinson: I see public health very broadly. The health of the public begins with basic services. You cannot be a healthy community if there is no access to food. We support the Memphis Food Bank by serving over 35,000 meals every year. Two years ago the church donated the space on the corner of South Parkway and Mississippi for the establishment of a South Memphis Farmer's Market addressing the food desert in South Memphis by providing affordable fruits and vegetables. Residents now frequently take a taxi or several buses to get to a grocery store. Food is foundational.
We have provided new tennis shoes to children in need so that they can start school on time and not be embarrassed by their inadequate footwear. This is also a public health issue. This becomes a critical issue to not only children, but adults and their families.
When we talk about health, my congregation has adopted a healthy eating philosophy. We cook and serve healthy meals with healthy alternatives at the church. It is often said the unhealthiest meal of the week is the one that is served at church. We have tried to counter that trend by offering vegetables, baked and broiled food. In addition we have health promotions as well as Zumba classes twice a week for our members and community visitors.
Issues of mental health and family health are huge in the sense that we recognize the need to provide comprehensive counseling for children, married couples and families on site and through referrals. Through our family life center we provide alcohol and substance abuse counseling and referrals. We have a very active program, which offers intervention and counseling to women of child-bearing age at risk for HIV and AIDS. We offer prevention and counseling program. We work with other churches and institutions to provide training to those working with people living with HIV and AIDS in our community. We work with adolescents on pregnancy prevention. We help women make good and healthy decisions.
CM: Tell us about your initiative to create vibrant communities with public/private partnership in Memphis?
Rev. Dr. Robinson: I am delighted that the Plough Foundation recently awarded us a $250,000 grant to turn the house into a permanent South Memphis Farmer's Market, which will include placing a small green grocery store, and also placing a small demonstration kitchen in that facility. This will help residents in South Memphis learn how to not only buy healthy but also cook more healthily.
A hallmark of my ministry is making the point that churches are 501(c)3 social service agencies, particularly in African-American communities. Traditionally and historically we have fed, clothed and educated the masses. Over the years, we have received millions of dollars of support from the Department of Health and Education to create the kinds of programs that we have been talking about that have public purposes but that can be administered by the faith community when we are not using public dollars for the purpose of proselytizing.
We are showing our faith by our works even when we cannot with public funds do biblical preaching and teaching. It is about our presence in the community that provides services that are a public function. An example of that would be our after-school programs or housing programs, which are federally and state funded. We have the Farmer's Market, the Child Care center, the Circles of Success Learning Academy, and the residential component, which has permanently changed the face of South Memphis and it was done with private investment.
(The) South Memphis Revitalization Action Plan, which is a survey of what residents feel should be done in the area...is a 240-page document created by the residents. It has been adopted by the City Council. It has created a wonderful template for future funding by private sector.
CM: Any closing remarks?
Rev. Dr. Robinson: The St. Andrew Enterprise has been delighted to attract members from all over the tri-state region who have embraced both what the congregation offers them, but also what the services and works profile that they can offer the community. "Ministering to Memphis: Spirit, Soul and Body" is our theme.