About 25 years ago, when an African-American congregation in the Washington, D.C. area was denied a loan from a bank it had been doing business with for years, its pastor decided to act.
Determined to fight bias in lending and other types of discrimination, he teamed up with other churches to form the Collective Banking Group. That organization evolved into the Collective Empowerment Group and inspired affiliates around the country, including one in the Tampa Bay region.
“We have to foremost be the most dedicated advocates of our own causes,” explained Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil, chair of the board of directors of the Collective Empowerment Group of the Tampa Bay Area and a member of the national board.
“It doesn’t mean that we’re not willing to be in partnership with others,” he said.
And noting the threatened erosion of civil rights across the country, added, “We can’t allow our fate to be in somebody else’s hands.”
The Tampa Bay group, started about six years ago, is really just coming into its own. In February, it ran full-page ads in the area’s Black newspapers, the Weekly Challenger and the Bulletin News, publicizing a new campaign.
In addition, the next few weeks will bring hundreds of posters and flyers to Black congregations, businesses and individuals across the Tampa Bay area. There are also plans to enlist college interns to launch a social media effort.
It’s all part of a movement to “Bring Black Communities from Health to Wealth.” Specifically, Black residents across the Tampa Bay area are being asked to pledge to take care of their health and to build wealth.
Wealth building includes “changing spending habits to saving habits,” Aquil said. It also involves, he added, being focused on where to spend money, such as paying attention to organizations that support racial equity and being aware of those that don’t share the Black community’s concerns.
The wealth gap is growing, as is the gap in home ownership, with serious ramifications, including low student performance, he said.
The Black community is also being asked to make a health pledge to get regular examinations, screenings and treatment to prevent and control heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes and HIV/AIDS. And while some are excoriating mask wearers, the Tampa Bay group is asking Black people – who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus – to continue to take basic health precautions against the virus, “including hand-sanitizing, face coverings and socially distancing when possible.”
Aquil noted that Black people faced disparities in health care even before the coronavirus, which brought additional hardships such as job loss and the anguish of serious illness and death. He himself has lost family members in the pandemic.
The states of health and wealth are closely intertwined. The Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute, laid that out a year ago in an article titled “Eliminating the Black-White Wealth Gap is a Generational Challenge.”
“Black households have a fraction of the wealth of white households, leaving them in a much more precarious financial situation when a crisis strikes and with fewer economic opportunities,” the institute said.
“Wealth allows households to weather a financial emergency such as a layoff or a family member’s illness. The pandemic brought multiple such emergencies to American families across all demographics. However, the lack of financial security combined with disproportionate exposure to the deadly coronavirus has had especially disastrous results for the Black community.”
The Collective Empowerment Group of the Tampa Bay Area hopes to reverse such outcomes for local residents.
“We’re encouraging people to read, to study and implement both the health and the wealth components and make them part of their daily lives,” Aquil said. “The things that we can do ourselves, that’s the first line of attack. The first line of attack is to raise our own consciousness.”
The pledge campaign was launched in December during a luncheon for faith and community leaders at the Manhattan Casino. The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis, who had been involved with the D.C.-area group and took the concept to South Florida about 16 years ago after he moved to the state, was invited to speak at the St. Petersburg event.
Board members of the Tampa Bay area group include Pastor Louis Murphy of Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, Pastor Clarence Williams of Greater Mount Zion AME Church, Gypsy Gallardo of One Community, the Rev. J.C. Pritchett of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and Pastor Kenny Irby of Historic Bethel AME Church.
“We don’t want this to be a flash in the pan,” Aquil said of the movement.
“It’s not just one strategy for one month. There are a number of things that, God willing, we will be able to do that really give life to this. Eventually, you will see change over time. Over the long haul, it will result in individual and group changes.”