Englewood has a serious problem: when young people of color have the opportunity to pursue better careers and education elsewhere, they flee to it and never return. Most of the churches in Englewood aren’t staffed by people who actually live there—except during services, the doors are locked and the windows barred.
Charity is common in places like Englewood, but charity means white hands and short term mission trips and reinforcing to children and adults of color that they are always a project to come help and then move on from, never the leaders in solving their own needs sustainably.
Englewood has a problem, it’s a problem far too common in poor communities of color: they have had the lie reinforced again and again that they aren’t capable of behind their own advocates, their own leaders, and their own bringers of lasting hope. (Read More)
Pastah J is senior pastor of Canaan Community Church (CCC) and an Englewood native. Pastah J grew up during the shift in the neighborhood, which used to have a population of 97,000, but due to a crumbling infrastructure and a crime index number among the highest in the country, the neighborhood declined in population to a mere 30,000. Like many young people in Englewood, Pastah J had the opportunity to leave the old neighborhood behind, earning his Bachelor of Architecture from Tuskegee University, then going on to receive a Master of Arts in Teaching from National Louis University and Master of Divinity from Northern Seminary in Christian Community Development. But Pastah J felt convicted that he couldn’t be like many of his peers—he returned to Englewood and through some surprising movements of God became the senior pastor of CCC as well as teaching elementary school and the arts locally. (Read Pastah J's Full Bio) Pastah J and CCC are committed to being in the community because they are the community. Their work isn’t typical, isn’t short term, and isn’t about advocating for someone else. It’s about advocating for themselves and their neighbors.
CCC recognizes a fundamental problem in most charity efforts: many are pushed by people foreign to the community and tend to be largely through white churches and organizations. The problem with this is simple but devastating: people of color, especially children, stop seeing themselves as made in the image of God and sharing in the right to steward the resources of the world. They become, themselves, something to be stewarded by white people. CCC is breaking this image by shifting the narrative away from external charity to being about the community itself become its own advocate. Young people of color especially need to feel empowered to make Englewood a thriving community all on their own, to be entrusted with the resources to self determine how their community will prosper. When they have ownership over their betterment and the betterment of their neighbors, they not only see themselves as wholly as God sees them, they see themselves as fully capable to advocate for the richness of God’s kingdom here and now, in their own streets.
An example of this is when CCC closed its food pantry. Recognizing it was about ministering to the community and not making lasting change with the community, CCC chose instead to run a weekly co-op called 5 Loaves. With fresh produce, bread, milk, eggs, meat, and fresh flowers, they bring hope to Englewood’s food desert. To receive groceries, every co-op member must put in at least a dollar and participate in the entire process of loading, unloading, sorting, and packaging. Church members and neighbors together and not distinct from one another, working to change the environment of their community.
CCC and Pastah J have established numerous programs like this one to revitalize Englewood and change the charity narrative. There’s still so much more to do, but in these streets the seeds of hope blossom.
All donations to CCC go to empowering the community of Englewood through a variety of programs and initiatives. Among them: the Edward T. Dunn Scholarship, The Canaan Youth Sports Initiative, The Marion Williams Institute; The 5 Loaves Co-Op and Community Garden, Kusanya Cafe, The Omni Music Learning Center, and many, many others.
Pastah J calls giving money a form of discipleship—it’s a first step toward supporting a community in need of lasting connections and commitments. He invites you to partner in this work, not to show up and leave, but to come be a neighbor, a lasting friend, ready to be in the community and of the community, to help the community spread hope, be hope, and see hope in themselves.
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