For the past two years, the Jeremiah Group has been laying the foundations for broad-based community organizing in the greater New Orleans area. As an interracial and interfaith partnership of leaders from approximately 30 churches and religious communities, the group hopes to bridge the racial, socioeconomic, and geographic barriers that often keep people of faith from collective social action.
The group began under the leadership of Dr. Michael Cowan of the Institute for Ministry and Rev. Dwight Webster of Christian Unity Baptist Church. They recognized from their experience with a 1990 teachers' strike that a grassroots power base was needed to negotiate effectively with public and private policy makers. Their partner and model in this effort became the Industrial Areas Foundation, a network of 28 similar organizations across the nation that trains people to take responsibility for the welfare of their own communities.
The group plans to have a full-time organizer working by mid-1993 who will begin developing an agenda for action based on decisions made by a collective leadership. Issues the group is particularly concerned with include affordable housing, relationships between African Americans and the police department, regional economic development, and the transformation of public education.
While the primary leadership of the Jeremiah Group is now coming from progressive African-American churches, the group includes a wide variety of Christian and Jewish congregations. Leaders expect their numbers to grow in the near future to include between 40 and 60 members, united in a common concern for the welfare of their city.
Brigitte Kerpsack was news assistant of Sojourners when this article appeared.