The recent loss of control of Imani Christian Academy by Petra Ministries should send a message to other Black community groups loud and clear. Be careful who you put on your boards, and who you ask for money, because most of the time it comes with strings attached. And in Petra’s case they didn’t even see the big ropes attached until it was too late.
Black churches have come under much criticism over the recent years for their lack of involvement in the key issues involving the uplifting of the Black community; issues affecting the body, not just the spirit or soul such as jobs and education.
Petra Ministries tried to get a Wal-Mart in East Hills and almost had it but didn’t really get the kind of support they should have from the politicians and other Black groups throughout the city to make it happen. They understand the importance of education so instead of just talking about it, they went out and started their own school.
Academically Imani has been one of the top performing schools in the city since it opened its doors, but to expand they needed more financial support. Instead of reaching out to other Black churches, other denominations in the city such as Mt. Ararat, Rodman, Pentecostal Temple, and Covenant—all big churches in the East End area, as well as other churches and denominations throughout the city to expand this Christian school, they chose to go White.
Anyone who has studied Black history knows that even though there are a large number of White Christians who have fought beside Blacks in the freedom struggle, such as the Abolitionists, there are larger groups of White Christians who have not. One of Frederick Douglass biggest issues with the Abolitionists was that they thought they knew what was best for the Negro, thus not listening to Blacks.
So it’s not always the racist Whites we have to fear, many times it’s those Whites who desire to help Blacks improve, but all the time not really believing Blacks can do it for themselves or really have the intelligence to do it for themselves. So why would they possibly follow a group of inferior people who don’t have the intelligence to do it for themselves. Much like a pet you love, but it still has to be taken care of.
When Petra set up a board in which they only had 49 percent control they were asking for disaster, and they got it. It should have been 51 percent, and a limit on the number of people on the board outside the Black church. Would the Catholic diocese ever allow non-Catholics to control their board? Never.
The few Blacks left on the board are caught between a rock and a hard place. If they speak out, they are kicked off the board, so they just sit. I commend Greg Spencer for speaking to the Courier with his honest opinion, because at least he can do some good for the Black students while on the board.
The parents are caught in between. They wanted their kids to go to a Christian school, but most had their kids there because of the involvement of Petra. Now they must decide whether to stay, which is very tough because there is no other Black Christian school in the immediate area. So what do they do?
Petra has two options. Try to get control back from the board, or start up another school, this time with safeguards. I suggest the latter. And this time make sure the church always compose 51 percent of the board.
Why not go to Mt. Ararat, Macedonia, Central, Rodman, Pentecostal Temple, Ebenezer, The AME churches, the AMEZ churches, and other Baptist, Methodist, and all those other Black churches and denominations to start up a Black Christian school. A school that educates our kids in not just reading, math and science, but the Bible and Black pride. There are many, many Black parents who would love to send their children to a Christian school that teaches the values and beliefs taught in most Black churches.
But then again, maybe these White rich Christians who are now running Imani do know what’s best for Black folk. Because until we learn to work together as a people, and stop running to White folks, or the government for everything we will continue to be second class citizens. I’m not saying not to seek assistance from Whites because they do have the money and power, or the government, but we must control the strings attached to this help. We must let them know that yes we need your help but not your control.
(Ulish Carter is managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier.)