UMI Mourns the Loss of Founder, Dr. Melvin E. Banks

UMI Mourns the Loss of Founder, Dr. Melvin E. Banks


Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Sr.

UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.) announced today that its founder Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Sr., died on Saturday, February 13, at 86. Dr. Banks launched UMI in 1970 to provide African American churches and individuals with images reflecting their congregations and relatable, Christ-centered content from an urban perspective.

“Dr. Banks was a revolutionary publisher and giant for the African American church and community,” said C. Jeffrey Wright, CEO of UMI. “He was the first to create contextualized content that portrayed positive images of African Americans in the Bible. Because of his innovation, UMI has reached millions of Black churches and individuals with the Gospel.”

For the last 50 years, under Dr. Banks’ leadership, UMI has developed Christian education resources, including Bible studies, Sunday School, and Vacation Bible School curriculum, websites, magazines, books, and videos for its 40,000+ strong customer base. He wrote a number of books and devotionals and hosted a two-minute daily podcast called Daily Direction. In 1995, he brought on Mr. Wright as CEO to take on the day-to-day management of the company. Many evangelical organizations have recognized his pioneering work, including the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), which presented him with its inaugural Kenneth N. Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

“So many people have been introduced to the life-changing message of Jesus because of Dr. Banks’ ground-breaking initiatives,” said Terri Hannett, Vice President of UMI. “For 50 years, UMI has produced discipleship content that was intellectually rigorous and uniquely relevant for the Black experience.”

Dr. Banks was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1934 and made a commitment to salvation at the age of 9 years old. He graduated from Moody Bible College in Chicago in 1955 and attended Wheaton College, earning a B.A. degree in theology in 1958 and his master’s degree in biblical studies in 1960. After graduation, he took a job at Scripture Press Publishers, where he struggled to sell euro-centric Sunday School content to African American churches. This experience led him to create contextual resources for African Americans with imagery and stories unique to their culture. After a few years, he left the company to start his own to expand the publishing content for Black churches.

Dr. Banks had served as board chair since 1994 after the passing of Tom Skinner, the founding board chair of UMI. On February 14, 2021, the UMI Board of Directors voted to appoint Dr. Stanley Long to the role of Chairman after serving as Vice Chairman for the past 45 years.

“Dr. Banks has been one of my closest friends for nearly 50 years,” said Dr. Stanley Long, Chairman of the UMI board. “I will miss him beyond what words can describe. He and I have shared the same vision and burden for as many years as we have been friends. As board chair, I will invest as much energy as he did to continue the work of UMI in the same direction it has journeyed from its inception, to impact the lives of as many men, women, and children as possible.”

Dr. Banks also planted the Westlawn Gospel Chapel church in Chicago and co-founded the Urban Outreach Foundation to reach pastors, lay leaders, and Christian educators through conferences and other resources. He also co-founded Circle Y Ranch, a Christian camp and conference center for urban youth. Dr. Banks received an honorary Doctorate of Literature from Wheaton College in 1992 and served as a Board Trustee.

Dr. Banks died from a month-long illness and is survived by his wife Olive and his three children Melvin Jr., Patrice Lee, and Reginald. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to Circle Y Ranch Bible Camp c/o UMI 1551 Regency Ct., Calumet City, IL 60409 or donate via the website: https://circleyranch.net referencing Dr. Banks. Resolutions and tributes can be sent to [email protected].

Writer Spotlight: Dr. La Verne Tolbert, Ph.D.

Writer Spotlight: Dr. La Verne Tolbert, Ph.D.

Tolbert IMageFor the past two weeks, we have been featuring some of the speakers and panelists of the upcoming UMI Christian Writers Conference that will be held on Friday, April 22-23. Up next is a brief Q&A with Author and UMI’s Vice President of Editorial Dr. LaVerne Tolbert, Ph.D. In addition to being a best-selling author of her book Teaching Like Jesus: A Practical Guide to Christian Education in Your Church, Dr. Tolbert is also a former editor of Family Circle and Bride’s Magazine. Find out more about Dr. Tolbert and her journey to become a successful writer below:

 

When did you discover that you had a passion for writing?

During my early childhood years, my father required me to read at least 5 books every summer. I loved reading and found that I also loved writing.

Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?
When I was a magazine editor, I focused on writing non-fiction, and today this remains as my preference. I enjoy writing “how-to,” and my classic text, Teaching Like Jesus, explains how to teach.

What are you looking forward to most about the UMI Christian Writers Conference?
I’m looking forward to networking with and meeting new writers who are interested in working for Urban Ministries, Inc.

With so many other genres and styles of writing, how did you make the decision to pursue a career in Christian writing and publishing?
I’m a former professor of Christian education (Talbot School of Theology). Since my masters and doctoral work are in this field, it’s natural for me to also write for a Christian audience.

Do you have one piece of advice that you’d like to share with someone who is interested in pursuing a career in writing?
My advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in writing is this…write! Often, people say they want to write, and they think about writing, but they don’t actually sit down and write. At the conference, I’ll share my easy-to-follow steps for beginning this process.

 

For more information about the UMI Christian Writers Conference, visit the website.

Writer Spotlight: Katara Patton

Writer Spotlight: Katara Patton

Katara ImageFor the next two weeks, we will be featuring some of the speakers and panelists of the upcoming UMI Christian Writers Conference that will be held on Friday, April 22-23. Up next is a brief Q&A with Author, Editor and Publisher Katara Patton who will be hosting a workshop on top writing tips. Find out more about Katara and her journey to become a successful writer below:

When did you discover that you had a passion for writing?

I loved writing as a child; I really liked my 8th grade grammar class and my teacher too. In that class, I won an essay contest and I got to read the essay on a local radio show program. My teacher was the most supportive. When I told her of an idea to publish a school newspaper, she helped me do it. I think we only had one issue, but I was bitten by the desire to write and publish then.

Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?

I like writing non-fiction, however I’ve done a bit of fiction within work (like Sunday School curriculum) and it can be fun too.

What are you looking forward to most about the UMI Christian Writers Conference?

Seeing a lot of old writing friends and giving new faces information to help them break into writing for UMI as well as in other outlets.

With so many other genres and styles of writing, how did you make the decision to pursue a career in Christian writing and publishing?

I’ve always loved Sunday school and studying God’s word. When I realized that UMI was in the Chicagoland area, it seemed like a natural fit. While working on Christian material, I noticed my spiritual life growing by leaps and bounds. I actually get to read the Bible as part of “work” and have often found answers to apply to current personal situations–just by writing Christian material. My faith is so integral in my life, it would show up in any style of writing, but I’m thankful I get to call my work: Christian.

Do you have one piece of advice that you’d like to share with someone who is interested in pursuing a career in writing?

Write. Honestly, that’s it. Write whenever you have the opportunity. Don’t snub your nose at the outlet or the way you begin…if it is only a poem on the back of a church bulletin, it is an opportunity to use your gift. Any writing opportunity can lead to so many other opportunities to write. My first book series was “given” to me by a publisher because I had written anonymously (without credit) for several other authors. If I had only been looking to write books that I got to plaster my name over, I would have passed up those great opportunities and would not have been on the publisher’s mind.

 

For more information about the UMI Christian Writers Conference, including how to register, visit the website here.

 

 

Writer Spotlight: Crystal McDowell

Writer Spotlight: Crystal McDowell

Crystal-McDowell_IMG_4505-2-458x458For the next two weeks, we will be featuring some of the speakers and panelists of the upcoming UMI Christian Writers Conference that will be held on Friday, April 22-23. First up is a brief Q&A with Author, Editor and Blogger Crystal McDowell who will be speaking on “Writing Great Devotionals.” Find out more about Crystal and her journey to become a successful writer below:

When did you discover that you had a passion for writing?

I discovered my passion at a writers conference in 1999. I didn’t have a full understanding of the reason that I was there–but I knew that God was leading me in that direction. One evening at the conference, I called my husband and said, “I’ve found my people!” There was a common bond of exploration and discovery of God’s deeply embedded gifts within us that drew us together. From that very first conference, I landed writing Sunday School lessons leading to bigger writing projects. Bottom line…I never lost that feeling of “I can’t believe I’m getting paid for what I love to do!”

Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?

I see potential in writing both–however, in this season of my life writing Christian nonfiction is my strongest impact. I haven’t read as much fiction as I used to, but I’m beginning to explore it more. I believe that a writer’s greatest influence lies in what we are reading–it will be reflected in our work

What are you looking forward to most about the UMI Christian Writers Conference?

Jesus said, “It’s better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). I’m looking forward to encouraging other people to follow their dreams in the same way I was strengthened and encouraged to move towards my destiny. There’s something about strengthening others that gives me the fuel to continue to stretch myself as well.

With so many other genres and styles of writing, how did you make the decision to pursue a career in Christian writing and publishing?

I’m open to all genres and styles of writing that give opportunities to shine the Good News of Jesus Christ. I don’t know if I chose Christian writing and publishing–or if it chose me. The gift of creative writing in the Christian field is wide open right now for those who are willing to take the first steps of faith. As believers, our light is to shine wherever we go to whomever partakes of our writing.

Do you have one piece of advice that you’d like to share with someone who is interested in pursuing a career in writing?

The best advice given to me was from a professor at graduate school: practice your A-B-Cs which means Apply the Behind to Chair! Writing is something I do whether I feel like it or not. Alex Haley’s advice also rings in my head when he said, “Your attitude is everything. Believe in yourself and trust your material. To be a successful writer, write every single day whether you feel like it or not…”

 

For more details about the UMI Christian Writers Conference, including registration, visit here.