#IdaPledge Makes History in Honor of Ida B. Wells

#IdaPledge Makes History in Honor of Ida B. Wells

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Michelle Duster holding a portrait of her great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

I learned at an early age that my great-grandmother, Ida B. Wells, was a force to be reckoned with.

Born a slave in Mississippi, she became a leading civil rights activist when she sued the Chesapeake, Ohio & Southwestern Railroad for discrimination in the mid-1880s.

At the end of the 19th century, as an investigative journalism pioneer, she uncovered and documented in meticulous detail the violence of lynching. She also explained in hundreds of speeches how lynching served as a tool to terrorize the African-American community, rather than a form of punishment against alleged crimes against white women. In the early 20th century, she founded the Alpha Suffrage Club, the first African-American women’s group that advocated for their right to vote.

Growing up in the Windy City, I met people who had never heard of Wells, only recognized her name from a housing project that bore her name; or confused her with someone they thought invented the hot comb.

Ida B. Wells with her children, 1909.
Ida B. Wells Papers at the University of Chicago

A family commitment

Concerned that her legacy would fade from public memory, I decided to do what I could to make sure more people would remember the life and work of one of the most famous women during her time.

Since 2008 I have published two collections of her original writings – “Ida In Her Own Words” and “Ida From Abroad.” I give presentations, speeches and lectures about her work, and so does my brother, Dan Duster.

Dan and I belong to a committee that is creating an Ida B. Wells monument, and we have been involved with having a street renamed in her honor. In addition, we manage the Ida B. Wells Memorial Foundation, which our father, Donald L. Duster, and his four siblings founded in 1988.

Through all of this work, I’ve come to see many parallels between the grassroots support that my ancestor experienced during her lifetime and the posthumous movements to honor her.

Grassroots demands

Four decades after she died, the late 19th-century Romanesque Revival style stone residence that Ida B. Wells and her family lived in was designated a national historic landmark in 1974 and a Chicago Landmark by the City Council in 1995.

But the general public and our family had no access to the site in the predominantly black Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side because of its private ownership.

Her former residence, with the discreet historic marker in front, was located across the street from a massive public housing community.

As a public works project, it was the first of its kind in the city to incorporate a big park with playgrounds and athletic fields. Although the authorities considered other names, pressure from the local community to name the projects after my ancestor prevailed. The Ida B. Wells Homes, which opened in 1941, eventually included over 1,600 units.

Dozens of former residents have told me that when the homes first opened they were considered a dream place to live for African-American working-class families. For several decades the housing served as a beacon of hope and source of pride.

However, as a result of many factors, the area fell into disrepair and despair. As the Chicago Housing Authority demolished the buildings between 2002 and 2011 to make way for mixed-income housing, former residents of the Ida B. Wells Homes joined with other local leaders and activists to seek new ways to sustain Wells’ legacy in the community.

The future site of the Ida B. Wells monument is also where the Ida B. Wells housing project once stood.
Michelle Duster, CC BY-SA

Going viral

Between 2011 and the end of 2017, the monument committee raised money in traditional ways like mailings and fundraising events, as well as waging a crowdfunding campaign. Despite widespread interest in and support for a monument, by early 2018 we had raised less than a third of the money required.

I decided to approach other organizations that were in alignment with the work my great-grandmother did about partnering with us. I also awakened my sleepy Twitter account and began to make appeals for support from the public.

My tweets caught the attention of several people with large followings, including organizer Mariame Kaba and award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. They retweeted my messages raising awareness about this project, and added #IdaPledge to urge people to get involved in making history. In addition, Kaba hosted a New York-based fundraiser that included Hannah-Jones as a panelist, and I made appeals to people at various events across the country.

Donors from all over the nation and some from Canada and England supported the project, proving the international interest in my ancestor. A deluge of donations from over 1,100 people totaling more than US$40,000 coincided with her 156th birthday on July 16. Within six months, Kaba, Hannah-Jones and I had raised close to $200,000 – mostly through online donations that ranged between $10 and $100.

Street renaming initiated by local groups

At the same time, dozens of local organizations, led by the League of Women Voters of Chicago, pushed to have a major Chicago downtown street renamed after Ida B. Wells. There is already a Wells Street, but it’s named for a soldier who was stationed in the area before it became a city.

Two local officials, Aldermen Sophia King and Brendan Reilly, led the initiative as grassroots organizations worked to increase public support.

The aldermen originally proposed renaming Balbo Drive, which honors a controversial Italian aviator and fascist leader. Their idea stirred opposition that diverted attention from the goal of honoring Ida B. Wells.

King and Reilly agreed that the nearby bigger and busier Congress Parkway, which feeds into interstate highways, was a more fitting honor for the longtime Chicago resident who fought for justice and equality. And on July 25, 2018, the Chicago City Council voted to rename the major thoroughfare Ida B. Wells Drive, the first downtown street in the city’s history to be named after a woman or person of color.

The ConversationDuring her lifetime, Ida B. Wells got most of her work done with grassroots support from the African-American community. In keeping with her legacy, almost every public honor that Chicago has bestowed on her grew out of the interest, tenacity, and work of ordinary citizens who pushed for her recognition.

Michelle Duster, Lecturer of Business Writing, Business and Entrepreneurship Department, Columbia College Chicago

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Tap and pray: Churches using card readers for donations

Tap and pray: Churches using card readers for donations


In this photo taken on Thursday Aug. 2, 2018, Aaron Rodewald, an operations and finance manager at St. John’s Church, demonstrates a device that allows churchgoers to donate money using contactless payments, in Hoxton, London. Thousands of Christian churches across the world are now using portable card readers or apps to take donations as people increasingly stop carrying cash on them. The Church of England says 16,000 religious sites now have access to portable card readers. In the U.S., hundreds of churches have installed kiosks where the faithful can swipe a card to donate. (AP Photo/Robert Stevens)

Thousands of Christian churches across the world are now using portable card readers or apps to take donations as people increasingly stop carrying cash on them.

The Church of England says 16,000 religious sites now have access to portable card readers. In the U.S., hundreds of churches have installed kiosks where the faithful can swipe a card to donate. Others are popularizing smartphone apps where money can be sent over at any time.

“How we pay for things is changing fast, especially for younger church-goers, who no longer carry cash, and we want all generations to be able to make the most of their place of worship,” said John Preston, the Church of England’s national stewardship officer.

The technologies vary from donations via a website to apps and physical screens set up at the church. The contactless card reader, which can be passed around the pews like the traditional offerings plate, is a newer evolution that the Church of England, in particular, has been adopting.

It struck a deal with contactless payment companies iZettle and SumUp to create a system that all its religious sites can install. It takes Apple Pay and Google Pay but can also be used with a PIN code if needed.

The innovation seems to be yielding good results.

A startup that makes donation apps for churches in France says that the average contribution is two to six times higher than cash donations. Obole Digitale’s smartphone app is used by 34 dioceses that represent over 5,000 churches in the country.

That may also be due to the fact that electronic donations tend to be worth more than the small change people carry in their pockets.

St. John’s church in London has a contactless card reader with preset donation sums ranging from 5 to 50 pounds ($6.50 to $65.50).

Graham Hunter, the vicar for St. John’s, says about a quarter of all voluntary donations are now via contactless payments.

He adopted the new technology after noticing open-air market traders in London using contactless readers for payments.

“In everyday life, people go into cafes and into supermarkets and they’re used to paying with contactless all the time,” he said.

His congregation includes 23-year-old Zoe Mathias, who rarely carries cash unless she’s lost her debit card.

“I’m very glad that our church has entered into the 21st century with contactless payment,” she said.

The money raised is used for building upkeep, children’s activities and to stage events for the local community.

Hunter said the church realized it had to make up for a drop in cash donations and that technology is helping to do that.

He hopes embracing innovations like contactless card payments will show churches can be modern, forward-thinking places. St. John’s once installed a free public wi-fi zone in its garden, so passersby could surf the web while on their lunch break.

“The Bible describes God as the chief technical officer, the CTO, a chief technician, an architect of all that is to come. So, God is creative and produces new technologies and so should we,” said Hunter.

What Could Kingdom Corporate Leadership Mean?

What Could Kingdom Corporate Leadership Mean?

Video Courtesy of the Associated Press

Reading the biblical narratives of Joseph, David, Nehemiah, and others, we often hear them described as political actors like the kings and pharaohs they served, not as corporate leaders. But the actions they took to trade agricultural commodities, do construction projects, and rebuild walls were more corporate than governmental. These biblical leaders lived in times when the hard separation we now perceive between public or political sector actions and private or corporate actions was not so clear. The kings of the Bible could and did tax, but just as often we see them building and engaging in commerce.

Many of the most substantial global entities today are corporations, not political entities. Apple’s $1 trillion market capitalization, a business first, exceeds the GDP of all but 16 countries globally. The combined total employees of the US tech giants Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft now exceeds the population of over 75 of the world’s 233 nations.

God can and has directly used the business models and resources created by corporations to do tremendous good. Some corporations like ServiceMaster have had openly Christian CEOs who made it clear that their faith defined their leadership practices and principles. There have also been many examples of Christian entrepreneurs using corporate wealth to build charitable foundations. Joseph Newton Pew, the Presbyterian founder of Sun Oil Company (Sunoco), provided the resources to fund The Pew Charitable Trusts, which his children said honored his “religious conviction that good works should be done quietly.” Episcopalian J.K. Lilly and his heirs used their pharmaceutical corporation earnings to fund the Lilly Endowment, which is the fifth largest charitable foundation in the world ranked by assets and has been historically committed to “deepen and enrich the lives of American Christians.”

A lot of church and para-church entities have also found their greatest success emulating, practicing, or employing corporate business models. World Vision CEO Rich Stearns was formerly CEO of both Parker Brothers and Lenox before leading this more than billion dollar enterprise. He also has an MBA from the Wharton School. Compassion International CEO Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado is a Harvard Business School graduate. LifeWay Christian Resources, which serves the Southern Baptist Convention, has theologically trained leadership and a key executive structure that is distinctly corporate with the same slate of “C-level” executive positions you would find in any Fortune 500 company.

But Christians inside global business corporations can often change lives and express the love of Christ far beyond the work of local churches and para-church entities. The executives who implement free lunch in Silicon Valley technology firms keep employees in the building and boost productivity, but the same free lunch benefit in their Asian or African factory may be the best meal of the day for its workers.

Corporate business structures magnify outcomes both good and bad. Leadership failings echo through an organization on a global scale and can be devastating. The most centrally controlled “corporate” denomination, the Catholic Church, has been extraordinarily effective in transforming lives through schools, hospitals, and other global deployments of wealth and resources to effect social change and Kingdom outcomes. But the Catholic Church also illustrates some of the perils of centrally managed corporate type structures. From the indulgences that led in part to the Reformation to the recent covering up of sexual abuse by priests, it is clear that just deploying corporate management structures and tactics do not assure positive outcomes.

But what could Kingdom corporate leadership mean? Imagine if Apple CEO Tim Cook were to decide that pursuing Kingdom outcomes was of equal or greater importance than shareholder value creation. Assume that this might even increase shareholder value. More people would be employed and fed, healthcare would improve, consumption would go up, families stabilized, and poverty reduced globally.

Perhaps it is time for the further development of a corporatist theology. The faith, work, and economics movement is a good start. The examples in Amy Sherman’s book Kingdom Calling lay a foundation and Tim Keller’s theology of vocation outlined in Every Good Endeavor point the way, but we need thoughtfully considered next steps for those who want to more effectively use corporate entities or their positions in them to bring global Kingdom impact.

Corporatism in this sense means having the principles, doctrine, or system of corporate organization in an economic unit. A corporatist approach in Kingdom work could include a nonprofit or for-profit entity, even a church, that uses legal and business structures and strategies to accomplish its goals.

The focus would be:

  • Strategic collaboration between people with functional expertise to most efficiently use economic resources
  • Technologically enabled value creation activities
  • The pursuit of the common good

We need a “corporatist theology” to reach these ends better, and perhaps the milestone that Apple has achieved will become the most effective model for taking the whole Gospel of the Kingdom to the entire world.

C. Jeffrey Wright, CEO of UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.), holds a JD from Georgetown University and is a graduate of Columbia University with an MBA in Finance and International Business. He spent nearly 20 years in Fortune 500 companies before leading UMI to become the largest media company serving African American denominations and congregants.