Obama's former pastor kicks off East Bay initiative

January 1, 2011 5:24:23 PM PST
President Obama's controversial former minister, Jeremiah Wright, was in the East Bay Sunday to help launch a new movement in the local African American community.

Faith leaders say they have put together a plan for positive social change. 25 churches have committed to the Emancipation Movement Initiative. It means starting Sunday, change will come to African American communities in the Bay Area.

"This service is important to craft our minds around who we are as a people," Dion Evans with the Religazing Media Group told a congregation Sunday.

On New Year's Day, the people of the Baptist Ministers Union, or BMU, committed to change. They say what is happening in many East Bay African American communities right now is not ideal.

"As a community, we are not who we should be. We're broken economically but not only are we broken economically, we're bruised educationally," Rev. Willie Anderson said at New Bethel Community Church.

For some, their spirit is also broken, especially after crimes like the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl in Richmond and the shooting death of an unarmed barber in Oakland by police.

"We set aside this time, this day, of year, so we can get a new aspect on life," said Pastor Marty Peters of Victory Baptist Church.

The Emancipation Movement Initiative encourages economic development, education, and health and wellness, and it will be the church's job to push these positive steps. "We need to return to our roots," Anderson said. "So this year, we've made it a point of emphasis to reach out to brothers, reach out to pastors, reach out to women, anyone who's serving our community and say, 'At least, do these things.'"

Richmond City Councilman-Elect Corky Booze needs this New Year's initiative to work. Richmond's crime rate ranked 14th highest in the country in 2009.

"For us to make change, we have to believe and want to make change. So, it's our responsibility to put things in focus," he said.

Movement organizers hope that having the support of Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright will help. He started a similar action plan in Chicago. President Obama's former pastor and controversial religious leader was invited to speak Sunday, but ABC7 was not allowed to film his speech or speak with him directly.

Wright did encourage people to act. Over the next few days, pastors in the area will meet put a schedule together so workshops on financial aid and after-school programs can begin as soon as possible.