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Museum of African American History reaches out to local churches to raise money

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  • James
    The spirit is alive inside the walls of the modest church in a Greektown neighborhood of restaurants, bars and the casino. Taking a moment s break from
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 2, 2004
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      The spirit is alive inside the walls of the modest church in a
      Greektown neighborhood of restaurants, bars and the casino. Taking a
      moment's break from Sunday's service, Turman asks the congregation to
      open their pocketbooks for a friend: the Charles H. Wright Museum of
      African American History, in desperate need of money and members.
      WHAT'S NEXT?
      If the museum doesn't raise money by April 30 to pay for monthly
      utility and insurance bills along with staffing costs, it could close
      for several months, or until its finances are in order.

      In the last two weeks, the museum has gotten donations from individual
      African Americans -- ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. The increase in
      membership and donations has raised enough to pay April's projected
      operating expenses, says museum director Christy Coleman.

      The museum needs $80,000-$100,000 a week to meet estimated $360,000
      monthly expenses for each of the following two months, she says.

      Here's a rundown on questions, issues and what's ahead:

      Will Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick approve a transfer of funds from
      the current budget to go to the museum?

      Will Detroit City Council force the mayor's hand at its meeting today,
      when the future of the museum will be discussed? Council President
      Maryann Mahaffey expects a resolution today or as early next week.

      Will African-American churches continue to support the museum after
      the current crisis is resolved?

      How will the financial crisis affect the long-term fund-raising
      campaign for the museum? The museum has $24 million in pledges for its
      five-year, $43-million campaign.

      Can the museum's goal of remaking its permanent exhibit attract
      blockbuster crowds? The exhibit is set to open in mid-November.

      By Frank Provenzano

      Call or visit the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American
      History, 315 E. Warren, Detroit (two blocks east of Woodward Avenue).
      313-494-5800 or www.maah-detroit.org

      Individual memberships range from $5-$1,000, call 313-494-5827.
      Corporate and large donors, call 313-494-5853.

      "In African-American culture, the churches have been the holders of
      history," says Turman, whose church is the oldest African-American
      congregation in the state, founded in the 1830s by four runaway
      slaves. Second Baptist is a historic site as one of the stops on the
      Underground Railroad, and for spawning 30 other Baptist churches in

      Turman is part of the first concerted effort to help the museum
      through what some call the cultural and social backbone of the city --
      black churches.

      The pact between churches and the African-American museum is a natural
      connection and long overdue, says Rev. Joseph Jordan, president of the
      Council of Baptist Pastors, a 350-member group of ministers that
      represents about 250,000 churchgoers in the region.

      "At service, we simply say, 'Give what you can,' " he says. "We need
      the museum. It represents our heritage. It's like our Old Testament,
      presenting the history, accomplishments and lessons of the past."

      Since the bond with black churches is obvious, why did it take so long
      to connect?

      "We tried before, but I think they regarded it as just another request
      for their time and money," says museum director Christy Coleman.

      "Maybe we didn't do a good job in telling them we needed their
      support." Turman and others weren't aware of the museum's needs.

      "Many of us saw a beautiful museum, remember the prosperous opening
      (in 1997) at this incredible building and thought they were doing
      fine," he says. "We thought they must be self-sufficient and didn't
      need our help."

      Pastor Kevin Turman, in his resonant tones, has just delivered the
      sermon at Second Baptist Church of Detroit, and salvation is on the

      All that changed at a breakfast meeting at the museum in mid-February.
      Pastors from 79 of the region's churches were invited to a
      presentation detailing the museum's goals to transform itself through
      a five-year, $43-million capital campaign. The money would be spent on
      new exhibits and programs and to create an endowment, a safety net of
      sorts that insulates institutions from funding cuts and tough economic

      And then came the harsh reality: The museum was running out of money
      to pay operating expenses and could be forced to close.

      While the capital campaign has raised $24 million in pledges, most of
      that money is restricted and can't be used for current operations.

      The museum's future was in jeopardy.

      "We were awakened to the reality that they need us and we need them,"
      says Turman.

      The museum has a month to come up with about $720,000. An appeal for a
      bailout sits before Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Detroit City Council.

      Both sides continue to debate where to find money at a time when the
      current city budget is expected to have about a $55 million deficit. A
      resolution could come at today's council meeting or early next week,
      says Council President Maryann Mahaffey.

      "It can't come down to the mayor's way or the council's," she says.
      "We've got to put our heads together, find the money, keep the museum
      open, and prevent this from happening again." In preparation for
      today's meeting, several council members asked to meet privately with
      Coleman to find out plans to avert another emergency request. The
      museum receives $1.8 million a year of its $4.8 million annual
      operating budget from the city. Initially, it asked the mayor's office
      for an advance of $1 million against next year's funds and was turned

      Even if the museum gets some version of a city bailout or patches
      together the needed funds, living day-to-day is an "exhaustive pace,"
      says Coleman. With the city facing its own budget crisis with a
      projected $264 million shortfall in the 2004-05 budget, the museum
      must become less reliant on city funds, say City Council members
      Kenneth Cockrel Jr. and Alonzo Bates.

      "Something needs to be done right now," says Bates. "I'm tired of this
      perception that people in Detroit can't run things. But the museum
      should know, we can't continue to bail them out."

      When the offering basket was tallied at Second Baptist, about 100 of
      the 400-member congregation signed up to join the museum. Initially,
      79 churches have been approached by the museum, but only a handful
      have responded. In upcoming weeks, more churches will be asked to help
      in the membership drive.

      "It's more of a question of when the money will roll in, not if," says
      Coleman. "Some of the churches are just starting to talk to their
      members about the museum."

      The first month of the appeal is expected to generate 2,500 new
      members. Today's membership is 10,300, who pay annual fees ranging
      from $5 to $1,000. Before word of the funding crisis, there were only
      4,000 members.

      "Maybe this crisis was needed to raise awareness of the community,
      some of who've been asleep or not prepared to give," says the Rev.
      Edgar Vann Jr., pastor of Second Ebenezer Church in Detroit, which has
      a congregation of about 5,000.

      Detroit's black churches are a powerful ally to have in your corner.

      Politicians aiming to get elected in the city have nearly always
      sought their support. They played a pivotal role in the emergence of
      Coleman Young in 1973, and Kilpatrick's victory in 2001.

      "If you're going to have any impact on the city, you have to go into
      the churches," says Bob Berg, former press secretary for Young. "Any
      strategy has to include them."

      The African-American museum's plea for help could be considered a
      campaign for cultural pride and legitimacy, says Rev. Jim Holley,
      pastor of Little Rock Baptist Church.

      "I think each church should have a contribution to the museum in its
      annual budget," says Holley, who plans to offer a series of marketing
      and exhibit ideas aimed at creating a buzz at the museum, including a
      special exhibit of the Rosa Parks bus, currently owned by and on
      display at the Henry Ford Museum.

      "We must make sure that the museum is offering something to every
      segment of our society," he says. "The money to support the museum has
      to come from us. The corporate and foundation people are being pulled
      in every direction."

      There's a growing sense that the new partnership with black churches
      is the silver lining in the museum crisis.

      Yet with the optimism, there's a bit of suspicion.

      Says Turman: "If this isn't the beginning of a new relationship, then
      the museum is using us, and not utilizing us. I hope that's not the

      Contact FRANK PROVENZANO at 313-222-6696 or provenzano@....
      Marisol Bello and David Crumm contributed to this story.
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