Sunday, October 29, 2017

See How Pastor Phil Craig Galvanizes Churches To Advocate For Residents' To Get A Piece Of 100 Billion Dollar Queens Economic Revitalization

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Estimates of up to 100 billion Dollars is projected to be invested in Southeast Queens.  But how will local residents benefit? And can local churches help ensure opportunity?

By Kamau Austin, Publisher The Southeast Queens Scoop

Rev. Dr. Phil Craig, Pastor Greater Springfield Community Church
Rev. Dr. Phil Craig, Pastor of the Greater Springfield Community Church, is a bit incredulous at his present title as a minister.  Reminiscing he remembers his mother admonishing him with a prophecy earlier in his life that one day he would be a pastor.  However, Pastor Craig, didn't take her predictions of him leading a flock seriously at the time.

Being a pastor or minister of the gospel was the last thing on a young Phil Craig's mind.  Phil would first endeavor to become a successful club owner.

He enjoyed his earlier success as a nightlife entrepreneur.  He found a sense of satisfaction at being a club owner, making good money, and providing gainful employment for his staff.  His love or providing opportunity for his club staff was no doubt an indication of things to come.

Life was good for young Craig during his club ownership and his clubbing days until a family member took seriously ill and during that rueful period he had a series of dreams which forever took his life in a different direction.

During that difficult period Pastor Craig, reflects on his experience of "God showing him in a series of dreams that his life was spared by God at least three times on prior occasions from dying.  He was saved for a greater purpose."  One of the life incidents was surviving a robbery and shooting reveals Rev. Craig.

Another real life incident, illuminated on in the dream, was surviving an ocean rip tide type drowning experience that unfortunately claimed the life of a loved one with him, who did not survive recounts Pastor Craig.  That greater purpose revealed to Dr. Craig in the dream was of God saving his life " be a minister and help God's Children."

Subsequently, Rev. Craig started doing community and church work with Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake, Pastor of Allen Cathedral, in Jamaica, Queens, New York.  Pastor Phil Craig, also attended and graduated from ministry programs at New York Theological Seminary (NYTS), eventually earning his doctorate degree.  NYTS specializes in educating clergy in progressive forms of urban ministry.

However, before becoming a Pastor he also wanted to earn an MBA degree to better serve his congregation and community in business and economic matters.  On reflection Pastor Craig proclaims "Jesus was like the ultimate activist being concerned about the voiceless, giving hope to the hopeless..."  He goes on a few minutes later express "Jesus hated injustice and exploitation."

His passion and insight to help local residents in social justice and economic empowerment issues lead Pastor Craig to also get involved in the local chapter of the National Action Network (NAN), lead by the well known social activist and preacher Rev. Al Sharpton.  Craig's working relationship with two well known ministers with important but divergent social activist approaches makes him an unique change agent of the Gospel.
Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake, Allen Cathedral

Rev. Flake is known for using political and social power marshalled from the faith tradition of the Black church to focus on economic and community development like senior citizen housing, first time homeowners complexes, youth programs. Allen Cathedral lead by Rev. Flake, is known for economic community development in the Greater Jamaica and Southeast Queens area.

On the other hand Rev. Sharpton is known for his firebrand protest and civil disobedience approach to the Gospel imbuing social change in the tradition of people like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Dr.  Herbert Daughtry.  Pastor Craig walks an empowering line between these two progressive traditions in the legacy of Black Churches.  And his message may be very timely to local residents...

...Many Jamaica/Southeast Queens, residents are beginning to become very concerned and anxious about the increased development going on in the area.  A lot of investment money is being pumped into Queens in 3 key points.  Money is being invested in both LaGuardia Airport and JFK International Airports plus what is being billed as "Downtown Jamaica" or the Jamaica Avenue business district area.  We've seen estimates between 10 billion to 100 billion dollars to be invested in the area by public and private interests.

Rev. Robert Lowe,
Mt. Moriah AME Church 
Area residents are increasingly concerned with gentrification displacing local residents in a similar fashion to Harlem and Central Brooklyn.  Moreover, local residents are concerned if outside parties will get the lionshare of the benefits, of the economic opportunity happening around them - leaving little upliftment for their neighbors.

Investments like Governor Cuomo's recent announcement of investing 10 million dollars into what is being called "Downtown Jamaica," is interesting and does show some promise. However, how much will this Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), help long time local residents especially in surrounding areas of South Jamaica, St. Albans, Hollis, Richmond Hill, Queens Village, Laurelton, Rosedale, and similar nearby communities?  Variations of this question have been asked throughout different community meetings like one last Spring at the "Jamaica is Evolving" meeting.  The question remains how is Jamaica evolving and for whose benefit?

There has been a good deal of community meetings with civic leaders and local politicians about how the huge investments in the local airports and Downtown Jamaica can impact and benefit local residents in the Southeast Queens area.  However, there has yet to be a grassroots movement to mobilize area residents to advocate for opportunity for people organically apart of these neighborhoods.  This is probably a role Pastor Phil Craig and other local ministers like Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake can drive at least a conversation and mobilization for economic empowerment.

Some Christians and community residents may have raised eyebrows at the thought of the area churches taking a social advocacy involvement in economic issues, feeling the Church should focus primarily on traditional evangelical concerns.  However, historically progressive Black churches have been very involved in the social betterment of their congregants and communities for hundreds of years.  In short, the Black church in the US has its genesis in advocating and proclaiming the rights and economic opportunity for Black congregants. 

Terry Ebony, a Christian and highly regarded and award winning activist, empowerment speaker, author, parent, entrepreneur, and leader in Southeast Queens recently weighed in on the subject.  Ebony opined "The reconstructing of LaGuardia and JFK Airports are 2 of the biggest economic investments taking place in Queens right now.  It is only fair that community leaders are at the table making sure local residents reap as many of the benefits as possible. This can be in the form of the construction jobs, or any of the many jobs that will be available once the new developments are completed."

Rev. Dr. Henry T. Simmons, Senior Minister St. Albans Congregational Church
Rev. Dr. Craig working with other local ministers like Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake, Rev. Dr. Henry T. Simmons, Senior Minister at St. Albans Congregational Church, and  Rev. Robert Reece Lowe, Pastor of Mount Moriah AME Church, and Bishop Caesar Cabiness, of Praise Tabernacle, Inc. are getting research from areas with similar issues like Atlanta, GA, to see the best strategies to proceed.  Pastor Craig already has been involved with advocating for local union members employed at area airports to get higher wages.  Presently Rev. Craig has been working with them to get a more living wage reflective of cost of living realities in the area.  Addressing the economic opportunity and investment dynamics is just an extension of his present social advocacy in the area.

Terryl Ebony
Terryl Ebony chimes in more on the jobs issue "and, let me be clear, I don’t only want to see our people getting just any jobs. We need them to have some of the upper-level positions that become available as well.

We aren’t only good enough to do the grunt work. There are plenty of educated and talented people in Southeast Queens that are capable of handling managerial, directors, and executive positions. I love the fact that clergy members are stepping up and getting involved to ensure we don’t get bamboozled, like we normally do.

It is imperative that clergy not only get involved by having a seat at the table, but they bring back the information to the congregation and the community. Together, we can absorb the information, make an informed decision, and strategize a plan of action that is best for the community."

These progressive churches organizing and doing information gathering on how to empower local residents economically, especially given the investment boom in the area, has to be a promising dynamic given the successful history of Churches in the area driving community development.  The galvanizing of local churches in the past helped the area defeat the crack epidemic and drug violence associated with it in the 1980s threatening to destroy the area.  Hopefully the faith community will have similar good results on the economic front.

Area churches have set an example and living witness globally of what spiritually driven social mobilization can accomplish from area churches.  At the Southeast Queens Scoop, we wish them well and pray for their efforts to make sure area residents benefit greatly from the multi-bullion investments in Greater Jamaica and Southeast Queens economic revitalization.

Checkout The Short Video From Civic Leaders On Greater Jamaica Revitalization

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Posted by community events coordinator, Nzinga Lonstein Austin, is a prolific blogger who writes on the entertainment industry and issues for people with developmental and physical challenges.

She is presently in high school looking to have a career in video, film, and media. You can see more of her entertainment writing on Lonstein Movies.

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