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Miami Herald - January 14, 2006


Covenant' is fulfilling King's dream for the future

Bank presidents and a group of South Florida ministers will join in a 'Community Covenant for Economic Development' at a ceremony in Liberty City.


In his final years, Martin Luther King's crusade became rooted in black economic empowerment even as whites were still adjusting to the idea of integration. Today a group of South Florida ministers will further King's belated dream by signing a ''Community Covenant for Economic Development'' with some of the region's largest banks at a ceremony at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Liberty City.

About 30 ministers, calling themselves the Collective Banking Group, have invited the banks to join in the partnership in hopes of fostering job growth and home ownership in some of the region's poorest communities.

The program -- open only to church members -- will focus on helping residents in black communities including Overtown, Allapattah, Liberty City and Fort Lauderdale.

Ministers say the covenant will enable the churches and their members collectively to benefit from the kind of bank privileges often given to premium customers.


Pastors hope the partnership also will foster community redevelopment, including building affordable housing and creating job training centers.

The idea is to get low-interest loans, favorable mortgage services and home-buying incentives for church members.

Only those who show a covenant membership card at selected banks will be eligible for CBG benefits. The banks, in turn, profit by keeping the accounts of major depositors.

''A lot of people believe King was assassinated because he began to preach black economic empowerment,'' said Rev. Joaquin Willis, pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Liberty City and head of the CBG. ``We're hoping to further that dream.''

At a private meeting on Friday at the Church of the Open Door, pastors cast their votes and gave The Miami Herald a first look at the approved banks before today's ceremony. The banks selected are Citibank, Wachovia, OneUnited,Washington Mutual, Bank of America and Great Florida Bank.

Banks were accepted into the covenant based on scores on issues of volunteerism, philanthropy and their overall investment in the community. The ratings coincided with answers to a questionnaire, with seven being the minimum for approval and ten being the highest. Pastors said they would like to see greater reinvestment into the community from banks like Wachovia and Washington Mutual since they receive the most business. Overall, the CBG was pleased with each bank's evaluation and their commitment to economic rebirth in Miami's urban enclaves. According to Willis, the 27 churches currently in the CBG deposit more than $500,000 a week into local bank accounts from tithes and offerings collected on Sunday mornings.


Willis said that until now, the flow of money has been mostly one-sided.

Economically speaking, we have power we're not using,'' he said. We're not going to continue to empower banks to dis-empower us.''

Topping the list was Citibank, which gained a perfect score because of what ministers called its resounding dedication to the CBG's vision.

The CBG program was founded by Jonathan L. Weaver, pastor of Greater Mount Nebo AME in Upper Marlboro, Md., after his church was turned down for a loan despite good credit.

Weaver's church had applied for a $50,000 building loan, but the bank requested that it be put up for collateral. This came a year after the church paid off a 30-year, $200,000 mortgage in seven years - with the same bank.

After Weaver threatened to urge church members to pull their accounts from the bank, the loan was speedily approved.


Over the past three years, banks affiliated with Weaver's program have loaned more than $150 million to thousands of church members for small businesses, schools, day care centers and other community projects.

The CBG program has since spread to Baltimore, Charlotte, N.C., and Richmond, Va.

Willis and his group hope to reap similar rewards in Miami-Dade and Broward.

It was a long arduous process to decide on the banks, but we're confident this movement will provide opportunities that our members have never seen before,'' he said.